Boston pounded Toronto pitching and Jon Lester pounded the strike zone. That combination sparked the Red Sox to a 7-4 win over the Blue Jays Thursday night in a four game series opener that will close out the month of June and shake out standings in the American League East.
The Red Sox exploded for seven runs in the second inning, benefitting from a pair of walks issued by Toronto starter Chien Ming Wang followed by six straight hits, including a two run homer by Dustin Pedroia to cap the inning, staking Lester to an early 7-0 lead. All told, Daniel Nava, Jarrod Saltalamachia, Stephen Drew, Jose Iglesias and Jacoby Ellsbury collected RBIs in the second frame.
While the Red Sox were busy putting up big early-inning numbers, Lester got off to an impressive start in seeking his eighth win against four setbacks. Lester got plenty of help by inducing a treasure trove of ground balls, gobbled up by an impressive vacuum cleaner defense spearheaded by Drew at shortstop, Iglesias at third and the always sterling Pedroia at second. Boston’s starter cruised through the first four innings scoreless and hit-less against the Jays, but stumbled in the fifth. With a light rain falling, Lester gave up his first single to Melky Cabrera to start the inning, surrendered a second single to Rajai Davis, and both scored on a double by Maicer Izturis to get the Jays back in the game at 7-2 after five.
Following Boston’s big second inning, the Toronto bullpen was impressive, retiring 15 straight Red Sox batters before Shane Victorino doubled, but was left stranded in Boston’s half of the seventh inning.
Lester regrouped after the fifth inning to get a 1-2-3- sixth, notching his fifth strike out of the game on just 74 pitches through six innings and prompting a whimsical conversation between Red Sox broadcasters Jerry Remy and Don Orsilo regarding the merits of intermittent windshield wipers given the on again/off again drizzle. Whimsy gave way to worry in the top of the eighth when Lester gave up back-to-back singles to Davis and Izturis, then was lifted leading 7-2 with two runners aboard following an undetermined lower-body injury. Junichi Tazawa inherited a bases loaded situation with no outs, and wiggled out of the inning after the Blue Jays made it 7-4 and Daniel Nava closed out the threat by stabbing a deep fly ball almost to the Monster off the bat of Edwin Encarnacion to finish Toronto’s eighth-inning rally.
Lester got the win and finished with a pitching line of IP 7 R 4 ER 4 H 4 BB 3 K 5 PC before his injury lead to his departure from the mound. The win marked the second straight pitching victory for Lester after three weeks of win-less starts and stretched out a modest three game win streak for Boston which improved to 48-33, best in the American League and the third time this season Boston has been 15 games above the .500 mark.
Newly designated closer Koji Uehara earned his second save in as many nights by getting Adam Lind to ground out to Carp at first in the top of the ninth, then polishing off both Melky Cabrera and J.P. Arencibia with strike outs.
The victory maintained at least a three-and-a-half game lead for Boston over Baltimore, delayed by rain Thursday night against Cleveland, and increased Boston’s A.L. East division lead to four-and-a-half-games over the Yankees. Thursday night’s decision over Toronto moved Boston to 14-10 in the month of June against a wicked schedule dominated by head-to-head A.L. East confrontations as well as match ups against fellow division leaders.
Mike Napoli got the night off at first with Mike Carp getting a start in his place. The Red Sox will send lefty Felix Doubront to the hill Friday night in game two of the series to face fellow southpaw Josh Johnson. Doubront comes in at 4-3 while Johnson is 1-2 on the season.
Injured Clay Buchholz underwent an MRI Thursday that indicated an inflamed bursar sac in his throwing shoulder. Buchholz will not doing any throwing for the next two or three days and will be reevaluated.
- Lester pitches Red Sox to 7-4 win over Blue Jays (mysanantonio.com)
- Lester leaves game with injury (boston.com)