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Lester's debut is spoiled

After long wait, Rangers throw their weight around to secure win

Jon Lester waited so long for his major league debut, he must have felt he had turned 23 by the time he took the mound last night against the Texas Rangers after a 4-hour-47-minute rain delay.

Not that the Red Sox' 22-year-old lefthander offered that as an excuse for his 4 1/3 innings, in which he allowed five hits, four walks, and three earned runs, leaving with the score tied, 3-3. But he certainly had hours to think about getting his feet wet (literally) against a difficult Texas Rangers lineup.

Though Julian Tavarez's first two innings in relief of Lester were stellar, the final four batters he faced produced two runs in the seventh, Ian Kinsler's bases-loaded double down the left-field line driving them home and sending the Rangers on their way to a 7-4 victory before a crowd far less than the number of tickets sold (39,920).

``It actually wasn't that tough," Lester said of the rain delay. ``It didn't soak in until I actually got to the mound. I watched some TV and tried not to think about it. When they told me that the tarp was coming off and we were going for real, the juices started to flow."

Manny Ramírez ripped a home run, his 15th, into the Rangers' bullpen off Francisco Cordero in the eighth, making it a 5-4 game, but the Rangers added insurance in the ninth as Hank Blalock connected for a two-run homer against Keith Foulke. Foulke hadn't pitched since May 31 because of a sore back .

Some fans were at the ballpark for nearly 11 hours from the time gates opened (11:25 a.m.) and they probably hoped for a better show than they got from their team. The Sox and Rangers will play a separate-admission doubleheader today (noon and 5 p.m.).

As debuts go for highly touted lefthanders, Lester's was middle of the road, but there were certainly positive signs A small sampling of prominent lefthanders and their debuts shows that Tampa Bay's Scott Kazmir went five scoreless innings Aug. 23, 2004, at Seattle; Randy Johnson allowed six hits and two earned runs (both on homers) in five innings Sept. 15, 1988, against Pittsburgh; and Tom Glavine allowed 10 hits and six earned runs in 3 2/3 at Houston Aug. 17, 1987.

Wearing No. 62, Lester, who arrived at the ballpark at 9:45 a.m., never had a clean inning or a chance to build a comfort zone. It didn't help that the Sox made two errors behind him, but Lester wasn't as sharp as he has been recently in Pawtucket, where he had a 1.29 ERA since May 1.

Manager Terry Francona said prior to the game he thought Lester could throw at least 100 pitches. He had 90 after four innings, and finished with 102. His highlight came when he struck out Mark Teixeira with the bases loaded in the second inning . After Blalock led off the fourth with single, Lester got Mark DeRosa to pop to second, but he walked Kevin Mench on a 3-and-2 pitch in the dirt, Francona called for Tavarez.

Lester said he was mad at himself for throwing so many pitches and walking four. He spoke about being more efficient when he makes his next start, which Francona said will happen but wouldn't say when.

When Lester handed Francona the ball, he got a pat on the back from his manager and catcher Jason Varitek, and walked off slowly to a nice hand from the crowd. Lester, who said, ``I was disappointed because I wanted to go as far as I can. When I get taken out I get down on myself," tipped his cap as he stepped down into the dugout.

``It wasn't an easy day for him," Francona said. ``I'm sure he had some anxiety. But we saw signs of what we heard he can do. Now he'll get into a routine and attack the strike zone."

Lester certainly began his major league career as well as he could hope -- striking out Gary Matthews with a 92-mile-hour-fastball -- but the next batter, Michael Young, doubled to deep center. Young and Blalock, who walked, scored on DeRosa's double to left.

The Sox answered with a run in their half of the first. After one-out singles by Mark Loretta and by David Ortiz, Ramirez' grounded out, bringing home Loretta from third.

The Sox tied it in the third when Coco Crisp (who doubled to left and went to third on Loretta's single) scored on Ortiz's double-play grounder. But the Rangers regained the lead in the fourth when Lester allowed a leadoff double to right to catcher Gerald Laird, who moved to third on a fielder's choice by Jerry Hairston. Hairston, meanwhile, was safe when first baseman Kevin Youkilis tried to cut down Laird at third. Laird then scored on Matthews's sacrifice fly.

Youkilis, who was originally charged with an error which was changed after the game, told Francona he thought he had a good chance to get Laird. Francona said he was happy to hear Youkilis thought he had a play, but would have preferred the safe out.

The Sox tied it again in the bottom of the fourth on a two-out single by Alex Gonzalez, who drove in Varitek, who had reached on a double to lead off the inning.

But the Sox' offense (other than Ramírez's homer) was silent the rest of the way.

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