TORONTO - He had been their most consistent starter, their most dominant starter, with just one loss in the last three months. That was why it was so surprising that Jon Lester fell apart yesterday, matching the worst start of his career, giving up seven runs. It was a day in which everything went wrong, everything was a problem, though not for the Blue Jays. For them, it was all perfect.
But for the Red Sox, perhaps most damaging was the fact that Lester did not make it through the third inning, adding too many innings to a bullpen that has thrown quite a few - often ineffectively - over the last two weeks. And with Daisuke Matsuzaka throwing today for the Red Sox, that might not improve.
It wasn't really the bullpen yesterday, though. Because once Lester left the Sox in a seven-run deficit in the third, against a dealing Jesse Litsch, there was very little anyone could do, with the Sox eventually falling, 11-0, in front of 44,896 at Rogers Centre.
So what went wrong for Lester?
"Name it," he said. "Nothing was really working. Rushing through my delivery. Not a good tempo. When I did get the ground balls that I needed, they weren't at people.
"Just wasn't my day. The ball was up. Basically, everything that you don't want to do, I did today."
And it started early. On the first pitch he saw from Lester in the first inning, Vernon Wells hit the first of his two home runs, a two-run shot on a fastball down and in that Lester called the "best pitch I threw all day." It ended up banging off the facing of the second deck in left field, giving the Jays all the runs they would need, and ending an 0-for-11 stretch for Wells.
The Jays got only one run in the second, Kevin Mench scoring on a sacrifice fly.
The third? Well, that was a bit more problematic. Wells started by singling on a bouncer to left, followed by an infield single by Adam Lind. Wells eventually scored on a ground out, Lyle Overbay hit an RBI double, Mench followed with an RBI double, then John McDonald singled to left. That ended the afternoon for Lester, though his replacement, Chris Smith, added another run to Lester's total when Marco Scutaro hit a sacrifice fly.
"Everything's been down with action or cutting in," manager Terry Francona said. "Today just seemed a little flatter, up in the zone. Made some mistakes. On top of that, seemed like every ball today found a hole. Lot of pitches in a short period of time."
Though he was rushing in his pregame warm-ups, Lester wasn't anticipating this sort of outing. He couldn't make an adjustment, couldn't get batters to hit balls at people, couldn't do much of anything. He did emphasize that he didn't believe fatigue, or his innings count (170), had anything to do with it. The seven earned runs he allowed tied the most he's allowed in the majors; he also did it against the Yankees on Aug. 18, 2006. He also gave up eight hits, and walked two.
"It [stunk]," Lester said. "There's nothing really else to say. I didn't get strike one; when I did, couldn't put him away.
"It's just, I guess, one of those days. Just have to forget about it, wash it down the drain, come back tomorrow, get your work done. In five days, go out and improve on it.
"Just one of those days, the ball was up, and they were whacking it."
That seems to be the case a lot lately for Sox opponents. Starting Aug. 12, with that epic 19-17 win vs. the Rangers, the Sox have allowed 71 runs in 10 games. That includes 54 runs in just four games - the win over the Rangers, Josh Beckett's start against the Blue Jays, Clay Buchholz's start in Baltimore, and yesterday's loss. That's not the most effective way to catch a rolling Rays team, or keep Minnesota and Chicago at bay.
"When you get to your bullpen that early, you run the risk of pitching guys more than you're supposed to, which doesn't help," Francona said. "But [if] Daisuke comes out and pitches [today] like he's supposed to, it doesn't matter what happened last week."
What does seem to matter, though, is that the Sox haven't been able to consistently beat the Blue Jays. The Sox are now 3-7 against Toronto, a team they face eight more times. They have a chance to win the series today, four more games in Fenway starting Sept. 12, then three more at Rogers Centre later in the month.
"With the way they're pitching, they're going to be very tough," Jason Bay said. "It's definitely not a team that you want to face a lot with the pitching staff that they have, and then the hitting they're getting now. A lot of the times, especially given this time of the year, it's not always who has the best team. It's who's playing well at the time."
In this matchup, that's Toronto. But, for a Sox team that seems to endure a late-season swoon most seasons, there's at least one person not all that concerned.
"We'll be fine, bro," David Ortiz said. "We go through this [expletive] every year. At the end of the day, we'll take another ring with us."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.