Lester helps Red Sox keep up the beat
CHICAGO - The Red Sox hit what manager Bobby Valentine called “rock bottom’’ last Saturday, losing a nine-run lead against the Yankees at Fenway Park and getting booed off the field.
Riddled by injuries, hampered by a leaky bullpen, and guided by a manager who seemed unsure how to act in his testy new environment, the Red Sox were on the brink of chaos, having lost five straight.
A week later, they’re the happiest team in baseball.
“We need to stay on this path,’’ said Jon Lester, who combined with three relievers on a six-hitter as the Red Sox beat the White Sox, 1-0, Saturday night to extend their win streak to six games.
Now 10-10, the Red Sox got seven strong innings from Lester before Franklin Morales, Vicente Padilla, and Alfredo Aceves finished off the White Sox.
It was the fifth save for Aceves, who retired the side in order in the ninth inning after Padilla stranded two runners in the eighth.
It took the Red Sox until May 15 to reach .500 last season. The weather and a break in the schedule helped aid that effort this season.
Last Sunday’s game against the Yankees and CC Sabathia was rained out, allowing the Red Sox to take a breath and embark on a road trip against two teams from the less-stressful AL Central.
The Red Sox took three from the Twins and now stand a victory away from sweeping a four-game series from the White Sox.
“In the beginning of the game the guys have a good feeling,’’ said Valentine. “When you have a good feeling you have a good chance to win.’’
After five days spent piling up runs, the Sox were held to four hits by Jake Peavy. But two of them came in the fourth inning.
Ryan Sweeney broke his bat while blooping a ball over first base. He hustled to second for his major league-leading 10th double as the ball rolled away from a diving Gordon Beckham.
“I was watching it the whole way and thought I had a chance once it fell in,’’ said Sweeney, who has hit safely in 16 of the 17 games he has played in. “Peavy threw a good pitch and I got a break.’’
Peavy went after Adrian Gonzalez with five straight fastballs, all up and in. The last one was just enough over the plate for him to ground it into center field for an RBI single.
“He’s a great pitcher and he locates his fastball wherever he wants,’’ said Gonzalez, who played with Peavy in San Diego. “You have to try and cover the plate against him.’’
Thanks to Sweeney running hard out of the batter’s box, the Red Sox scored the only run of the game.
“Real big play,’’ Valentine said. “You don’t know at that time of the game how big a play it’s going to be.’’
Peavy (3-1) otherwise did not allow a runner to second base. He walked one and struck out seven.
Lester (1-2) had a rougher time, needing 122 pitches over seven innings. But he never gave in. He gave up five hits, walked one, and struck out seven.
“He asked what he had to do and I just said, ‘Pitch like an ace. Like Jon Lester is,’ ’’ said Valentine. “And he pitched like an ace.”
Lester had a rough first inning, throwing 32 pitches.
Adam Dunn walked with two outs before Paul Konerko doubled to left field. Cody Ross bobbled the ball and third base coach Joe McEwing tried to wave Dunn in. But Dunn didn’t see him and jogged into third.
Lester got Alex Rios on a fly ball to right field to end the inning.
It was the first of eight consecutive batters Lester would retire. Konerko broke that string with a double to center field with one out in the fourth inning.
Center fielder Marlon Byrd tried to make a diving catch, but the ball hit off his left wrist. No damage was done as Rios lined to center and Dayan Viciedo struck out. The White Sox did not advance a runner into scoring position again until the seventh inning.
Viciedo reached on an infield single with one out. Tyler Flowers, Chicago’s backup catcher, followed with a well-hit grounder up the middle. Shortstop Mike Aviles made a diving stop and tried to flip the ball to Dustin Pedroia from his stomach, but the throw was too high and glanced off Pedroia’s glove.
Brent Morel grounded into a force at second. That gave Beckham a chance and he saw 10 pitches before grounding to shortstop. Aviles made an off-target throw to second, but Pedroia held on.
That was the final pitch for Lester, who came into the game searching for his first victory since last Sept. 6 against Toronto. In the eight starts that followed, four of them this season, he was 0-5 with a 7.01 ERA.
It was the first time in his career Lester had lost five consecutive decisions.
“I didn’t even know about it,’’ Lester sad. “I’m not worried about that. I have to worry about every five games, doing my job, trying to keep this team in ballgames. That’s all I can worry about.’’
That attitude is working for the Red Sox as a group.
“We show up every day and play hard,’’ Sweeney said. “Lots of good things are happening.’’