Righted by lefty
Lester (12 Ks) gets Sox (4 HRs) back on beam
TORONTO - Coming off a season in which Jon Lester vied for the title of ace, carrying the Red Sox through the second half of the season and into the playoffs, the results this year had been even more stunning. Lester couldn't stem a wash of bad pitches leading to bad innings leading to defeats for the team. His ERA only seemed to increase, along with his losses, along with his frustration.
"Last year at this time, if I was having the same results, I would still be aggravated with it," Lester said. "But I think given what went on last year and the year I had, it just adds that extra emphasis on trying to do well. I think that's where maybe I tried to do too much. I think now I can maybe get into a little bit better of a rhythm and pitch a little bit better."
With increased use of a different-look changeup, Lester yesterday added to a string of what is now three straight games in which he has been at least satisfied, even pleased, with his outings. He beat Toronto two starts ago, allowing just one run in 6 1/3 innings, then lost to the Twins Tuesday on a bad pitch to Justin Morneau for a three-run homer in a five-run fifth.
Lester was far from perfect in yesterday's 8-2 win over the Blue Jays in front of 30,496 at Rogers Centre. He allowed a run in the first inning, which began with an infield bouncer over his head by Marco Scutaro, who came home on a sacrifice fly by Vernon Wells, marking the only time a Sox outfielder would touch a ball with Lester in the game. But Lester only grew more dominant the longer he was in the game, striking out a career-high 12, including eight of the final 11 batters he faced, and allowing only three infield singles.
Lester, though, said he would have given some of the strikeouts back to be able to go deeper into the game, even as teammate Mike Lowell called him "outstanding," saying he had "strikeout pitches left and right."
"His stuff today was . . . that's as good as we've seen," manager Terry Francona said. "He had power behind his fastball. He had the cutter working, curveball, changeup. That was fun to watch. That was funner when we spread it out."
With an altered lineup behind him, providing actual run support for only the second time on this trip (four homers), Lester settled down after an inefficient first three innings. After throwing 59 pitches over those frames, the pitch count increased by an inordinate number of foul balls, Lester managed to stay in the game through six innings. It was enough behind an offense that finally produced some separation.
Starting when Kevin Youkilis hit the first of two home runs - one in the first inning, another in the eighth - the Sox bats exploded for the first time in a week. Dustin Pedroia added to the home run craze when he hit his first since his first at-bat of the season, a three-run line drive in the fourth that hit the mesh foul pole just a few feet over the wall in left. Another run came in the fifth when Lowell doubled in Youkilis.
The final three runs came in the eighth courtesy of the rare (at least for the Sox) sacrifice bunt/sacrifice fly combination, which then touched off the more familiar. Youkilis and Jason Bay went back-to-back in the inning, both homers landing in the Blue Jays' bullpen.
So the Sox went into the day off on the road trip, after heading to Detroit last night, having avoided being swept in Toronto.
"It was a nice way to end the series because we didn't really swing the bats all that well," Lowell said. "I think we strung together a lot of extra-base hits today, home runs and doubles. I think it added a little exclamation point, and they provided good instant offense. Instead of banging out 15 hits and scoring five runs, it's much better to get  hits and eight runs. That's pretty solid."
It was, and so was Lester. Jason Varitek said the pitcher threw about 20 changeups in the game, perhaps 10 times as many as he called in Lester's last start against the Jays, saying, "That's a totally different guy than you've seen before. He just showed that he had a good one today, had good depth and good arm speed with it."
And yet, he was frustrated. He gave the run back in the first inning, and allowed too many runners, and didn't go deep. But in shrinking his ERA from 6.07 to 5.65, there was real progress for the pitcher. He didn't do too much in trying to have a shutdown inning.
He pitched, finally, as if he deserved the title of No. 2 in the rotation, a pattern he hopes continues.
"When you're not doing well, it adds the emphasis on, 'Why am I not doing well? Why am I not doing what I did last year or anything in between?' " Lester said. "But I like it. I like having guys view me as whatever you want to call it - more or less just a good pitcher. I want to go out there every five days and know that the other team respects what I can do and know that my team's got my back and we'll go out there and battle. That's what we're trying to do."