Red Sox put it all together to back Lester’s nine solid innings
Pitching, defense, and the three-run homer?
Sounds vaguely familiar.
It’s the old Earl Weaver Oriole Way. It’s a hybrid of Theo Epstein’s run-prevention philosophy, which hasn’t exactly taken hold with the Red Sox this season. But sometimes it does, and last night was one of those times, as the Sox posted a 6-2 victory over the Minnesota Twins before 38,144 at Fenway Park.
Jon Lester (4-2), pitching the Sox’ first complete game of the season, continued his mastery of the strike zone with a quality performance in which he limited the Twins to six hits. Kevin Youkilis banged the three-run homer and Adrian Beltre contributed a solo shot. Victor Martinez added three doubles.
The Sox defense was solid. Newcomer Angel Sanchez started two double plays from shortstop, and Dustin Pedroia made a leaping catch of a liner by Delmon Young in the fifth. In the ninth, Pedroia couldn’t handle Beltre’s throw on what would have been a double play, an error that led to the Twins’ second run.
Over the last three games, the Sox have given off a vibe of hope. The standings still remain ominous, with the Sox 8 1/2 games back of the Rays, who are white-hot. But Jacoby Ellsbury, a huge missing piece for most of the season, is scheduled to return to the lineup tomorrow in Philadelphia.
“We haven’t won as many games as we would like to this year, but we’ve been in a lot of close games,’’ said Youkilis. “I think the big thing for us is we’ve got to win the close games from here on out. When we’re ahead, we’ve got to keep that lead. We’ve got to scratch away when the lead is not that far in front of us. It’s good to play a team that’s at the top of their division and win, but also it’s just good to win.’’
In his 100th career start, Lester pushed his winning percentage to .719 (46-18). Since 2006, that has been bettered only by San Francisco’s Tim Lincecum (45-17). And Lester now holds the distinction of having the best winning percentage — in history — among pitchers with at least 100 starts. Last night’s win pushed him ahead of Spud Chandler at .717 (109-43). This after a horrid start to the season in which Lester went 0-2 with an 8.44 ERA through three turns.
“Any time you give the bullpen a break, it’s great,’’ Lester said. “We beat [the bullpen] up early on this season and now it’s time for us as starters to go out there and pick them up and not give them a work night. It’s always nice to do that. It builds confidence to know you finished what you started. It’s a cool feeling.’’
Just as cool as having the best winning percentage for a pitcher with 100 or more starts.
“It’s great, but it’s just a testament to the teams I’ve been on,’’ Lester said. “We had a lot of great players here and it’s easy to pitch when guys score runs. It takes pressure off having to make each pitch perfect. Same thing goes for our defense. It’s a cool thing and hopefully I can continue to do it. You don’t get paid to go out and get no-decisions and losses.’’
Lester, who struck out nine and walked none, retired the first seven batters before Brendan Harris singled to left in the third. Lester surrendered a leadoff double to Justin Morneau in the fifth but got the next three batters and went 1-2-3 in the sixth and seventh, striking out the side in the seventh. He had the benefit of double-play grounders in the third and fourth.
The Twins finally scored in the eighth when Michael Cuddyer led off with a double and scored on Young’s sacrifice fly after Jason Kubel advanced him with a ground out. Lester also allowed an infield single to Harris, but got out of the inning by getting Nick Punto to swing through a 95-mile-per-hour fastball, just his 84th pitch of the night.
In this topsy-turvy season, the long ball has been very, very good to the Sox. And last night, Beltre belted a solo shot into the Boston bullpen in the second inning to give Lester a 1-0 lead. Youkilis made it 4-0 when he belted a three-run homer over the camera station in center in the third.
The Red Sox have now hit 58 home runs, trailing only Toronto (66) in major league baseball. They’ve also homered in 15 of their last 20 games, with 34 in that span. Entering the season, the Sox had nine players who had hit 25 or more homers in a season, but did manager Terry Francona think he’d have a bunch of mashers?
“I don’t know that I gave that a whole lot of thought,’’ he said. “That’s probably a better question to answer at the end of the year. I care more about scoring runs as opposed to how we score them.’’
But he likes the three-run homer.
“[That’s] very good. Ask Earl Weaver,’’ Francona said.
Youkilis remains one of the Sox’ most consistent hitters, and he has been a terror against lefthanders, leading the majors with a .448 average against them.
It was the first time this season that Twins starter Francisco Liriano (5 hits, 5 runs, 3 walks, 6 strikeouts) did not reach the sixth inning. He was throwing 95 m.p.h., but Boston’s righthanded lineup proved too much for the comebacking lefty, who was 4-2 with a 2.63 ERA coming into the game but took his third straight loss.