Lefthander felt he had right stuff
No one was on base, the Red Sox had a six-run lead, and Jon Lester made up his mind that there was no way he was going to walk Jose Bautista.
The Red Sox lefthander had gotten the league’s home run leader to bounce out in the first inning. And after mixing up his curveball, fastball, cutter, and changeup over the first five pitches of their second battle, he was looking at a 3-and-2-count.
Lurking in the on-deck circle was Toronto’s Edwin Encarnacion and the 21 home runs he brought into the game.
Lester had retired eight straight up to that point in the fourth inning, and no part of him wanted to let Bautista off the hook.
He fed Bautista a sinker. And the Blue Jays slugger devoured it. He launched the ball over the Green Monster, between the Volvo and the Sports Authority signs, for his 25th homer of the season.
It didn’t matter to Lester. He was confident in the pitch, and Bautista had an answer for it.
“I think he hit that one off the end a little bit,” Lester said. “Didn’t quite get it all.
“I’m not going to give him a chance to get on base for Encarnacion and give up a two-run home run.”
For the second straight start, Lester went seven innings and gave up four runs. The outcome — a 10-4 win at Fenway Park Wednesday that moved the Red Sox into a tie with the Rays for third place in the AL East — was the only thing that changed.
In his last start, he had his best stuff and the Braves knocked him around for 10 hits, the most Lester has allowed all season. Against Toronto, Lester gave up seven hits. He all but dared a dangerous, if overly aggressive, lineup to hit him.
“Throwing strikes, not giving in,” he said. “I think it’s more or less trusting the fact that I’ve got better stuff and seeing what happens. I’d rather give up a hit and make them earn it than walk them.”
He walked no one. He threw 100 pitches, 64 for strikes.
“I thought he was very good,” said manager Bobby Valentine. “He did exactly what we needed to win a ballgame. His 100 pitches were all quality. I think he got to the middle of the plate on a couple of pitches where we had a big lead, gave up some home runs, but you’ve got to like what you saw today.”
Lester had been getting 5.06 runs of support coming into the game, but having a six-run cushion by the second inning was a luxury even for him.
“Absolutely, it takes the pressure off you, especially after they come out in the first and put one on the board,’’ said Lester. “It’s big to have our offense go out there and do that for you.”
He put the Jays on their heels, and because they’re a far-from-selective lineup, they did themselves no favors.
“He was getting early strikes, they were swinging,” said right fielder Cody Ross. “They were down six runs or five runs and they still came out hacking.
“He was getting early, quick outs. Made a couple of mistakes but it’s fine when we’re up by that much. Solo homers aren’t going to kill you.”
“That’s who they are,” said catcher Kelly Shoppach. “They’re a very aggressive team.”
Lester leaned on his sinker early but ultimately decided on the changeup as his out pitch.
He may have thrown it one too many times in the sixth inning when he gave up a two-run blast to Encarnacion on a 2-and-1 changeup.
“I was getting outs with it,” he said. “You can always second-guess when something bad happens. We had gotten him out with it a couple times before, but we were ahead in the count.
“It wasn’t a bad pitch. He just put a good swing on it, got the good part of the bat on it and hit it out.”
“I think he’s throwing the ball really well,” Shoppach said. “His changeup’s really good right now and his fastball’s got life. He was upset about giving up that homer to Encarnacion. But he really had good stuff today.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.