Red Sox sting Rays with walk-off
Lester superb in return to Fenway Park mound
BOSTON -- His fans and teammates couldn't have asked much more from Jon Lester in his first Fenway Park start in nearly a year. And though he didn't win the game, Mike Lowell and Coco Crisp made sure his night ended on a winning note.
Lowell's solo homer over the Green Monster with one out in the ninth tied the game, and Coco Crisp's single to right field later in the inning scored Jason Varitek with the winning run, leading the Red Sox to a dramatic 2-1 victory over the Devil Rays on Tuesday night.
Before the ninth-inning dramatics, Lester and Red Sox nemesis Scott Kazmir engaged in a classic pitchers' duel. Lester allowed just one run and two hits over seven innings, while the Devil Rays lefty threw six shutout innings and left with a 1-0 lead.
"Obviously, we had a pretty quiet night offensively," manager Terry Francona said. "And then Lowell jumps on a pitch, and the whole complexion of the game changes."
Lowell belted a 2-0 pitch from Al Reyes (1-2), beginning the rally. Following a strikeout by Kevin Youkilis, Varitek nearly ended the game with a ground-rule double into the seats in right before Crisp ended matters with a single to right, scoring Varitek when Delmon Young's throw was off-target.
Tuesday marked Lester's fifth start since overcoming non-Hodgkin's lymphoma but his first before the Fenway faithful since Aug. 18, 2006, against the Yankees.
Following a standing ovation from the sellout crowd after he finished his pregame warmups, Lester went out and held the Devil Rays hitless through the first three innings.
"Preparation-wise, it felt like any other day, coming in and pitching," Lester said. "I just try to take that mind-set and not let it affect me at all. Walking in from the bullpen was pretty exciting, but other than that, it was fairly normal."
Tampa Bay scored its first run of the series in the fourth when Carl Crawford, who'd spoiled Tim Wakefield's no-hit bid on Monday with a seventh-inning single, lined a double off the top of the Green Monster scoreboard.
B.J. Upton followed with a single off the outstretched glove of Dustin Pedroia, putting runners on first and third with none out. Carlos Pena's flyout to deep center plated the only run of the night against Lester.
Anticipating the end of Lester's night, the crowd of 36,837 gave him one final ovation after Manny Ramirez caught a fly ball off the bat of Brendan Harris to end the seventh. Lester made his way to the dugout, accepting congratulations from Francona at the top step.
"Excited," Francona said in describing the moment from his perch in the dugout. "He pitched like he can pitch. He was aggressive with his fastball, commanded it. I think that the ovation the fans gave him [after the top of the seventh] was probably very special to him. I don't know that he pitched differently. He's a pretty smart kid, I think he gets it."
Lester's night was finished after seven solid innings and 97 pitches. The southpaw allowed only the two fourth-inning hits, striking out four and walking one, Akinori Iwamura to lead off the game.
"A little bit more than normal," Lester said of his adrenaline during the game. "I thought I got it back locked in on that fourth pitch, but I ended up walking him. Good thing it didn't hurt me. A lot of excitement, a lot of emotions."
"It was a great effort for him, especially for his first game back here, I think he got a great ovation," Lowell added. "I'm glad his efforts didn't go to waste, because it would've been a shame if we lost, 1-0, in that sense."
Kazmir lowered his ERA to 1.01 since the All-Star break, holding the Red Sox to four hits while striking out eight and walking three.
Eric Gagne (3-0) earned his first win in a Red Sox uniform by striking out the side in the ninth.
Mike Petraglia is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.