PHILADELPHIA -- For all the talk about the offense, which has been sparing for the Red Sox on this nine-game road trip, the surest way to victory is with a masterful pitching performance. And that's exactly what Jon Lester gave his team on Thursday at Citizens Bank Park, firing seven strong innings en route to a 5-2 victory over the Phillies.
Thanks in large part to Lester, Boston was able to salvage the finale of this three-game series in a matchup many speculated could surface again in the World Series.
But the Red Sox aren't thinking about October. Instead, they are just trying to get out of a mini-funk.
Lester aided that cause in this one, giving up just two hits while walking two and striking out five.
"He was really good," said manager Terry Francona. "He walked two and gave up a couple of singles, but he threw strikes, followed [catcher Jason Varitek] around, followed the glove around all day. He never had the real quick inning, and they made him work pretty consistently every inning to 16, 19 [pitches], so they ran his pitch count up a little bit. But he got into the seventh and made big pitches to end that inning, so that was really good. We needed to find a way to win that game."
In the first two legs of this road trip through Pittsburgh and Philly, Boston has lost the first two games and won the finale.
The Sox will try to get off to a better start in Houston, where they open a three-game series on Friday night.
While Lester was clearly the tone-setter, the bats did their share on a day there was no David Ortiz (no designated hitter), Carl Crawford (disabled list) or Kevin Youkilis (bruised left ankle).
Jason Varitek belted two home runs in the No. 5 spot in the batting order. Dustin Pedroia, who took the place of Youkilis in the cleanup hole, also went deep.
"It started with our pitching," said Varitek. "Jonny held on and kept us in that game long enough, and [we] got a break and got their starter out of the game, but Jonny's the story, because he pitched extremely well."
While the five runs were hardly an offensive uprising, that amount of damage was much-needed in that the Sox had only scored 10 runs in the first five games of the road trip.
And yes, Boston caught a break when Adrian Gonzalez hit a rocket off the right hand of Phillies starter Cole Hamels in the top of the fourth. Though it turned into an out, Hamels had to leave after four innings.
It was after his exit the Sox got their bats on track.
"He was going right through us," Francona said. "That was probably our best way to get him out of there, because he wasn't going to leave anytime soon. Obviously, when you get to the bullpen before you want to, it gave us a chance. Sometimes you catch a break, but fortunately, we took advantage of it."
Lester (10-4, 3.43 ERA) was in the groove right from the start in this one, retiring 12 of the first 14 hitters he faced.
"[I was] just trying to pitch a normal game," said Lester. "Obviously, you want to give a quality start and go out there and battle and not give up a lot of runs, but you can't worry about losing streaks or winning streaks or anything like that. You've just got to go out and try to execute pitches."
He did plenty of that.
"Lester's tough," said Phillies second baseman Chase Utley. "He's one of the better lefties in all of baseball. He mixes his pitches well. He's got a good fastball, but he mixes his pitches all over the place. So he was tough today, but we'll put today behind us and go forward."
Boston's fifth-inning rally occurred against reliever David Herndon. Josh Reddick put things in motion with a one-out triple to right. The prospect is hitting .444 in 36 at-bats.
Drew Sutton brought him home with a single. With two outs, Jacoby Ellsbury ripped an RBI single to left and Lester had a 2-0 edge.
Varitek made it a 3-0 cushion in the sixth, belting a two-out solo shot to right.
In the eighth, Pedroia and Varitek came up with the insurance, supplying back-to-back shots to right.
"Any time 'Tek's swinging the bat like that, it's always a good thing," said Lester. "We've had some other contributions as well. That was big for us. It was a good game all around for everybody involved."
Now it's on to Houston.
"I guess flying after a win is always more fun," Francona said, "but you try not to react too much. You don't like to get in a position where you have to win a game to save not getting swept, but that's the way it was. It was a good game to win."
Might the Red Sox return to Philadelphia in October?
"October's different than now," Francona said. "This is a June 30 game. We know they're good. Their pitching is great. That has no bearing on later in the year. I just hope we get there."