Tough day for Lester as Red Sox fall
Lefty allows career-high eight runs as rivals even series
BOSTON -- Already armed with the reputation of a team that has pulled out several dramatic victories this season, the Red Sox simply found a deficit that was far too large to overcome on Saturday afternoon, suffering a forgettable 14-5 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.
A close game over the first four innings, the Rays pounded the Sox with six in the fifth and another five in the sixth.
It was a blah kind of day for the Fenway faithful.
Jon Lester surrendered 10 hits and eight runs over 4 1/3 innings, walking one and striking out six.
That top of the fifth inning was the breaking point, as the Rays hit several grounders just hard enough to be hits, several of them through the hole and into left field, making it an exercise in frustration for not just Lester, but also shortstop Julio Lugo.
"The fifth inning got out of hand a little bit," said Lester. "I don't really know what to say. Try to shake it off. I don't think there are a whole lot of adjustments that need to be done. I keep saying that and I know it's probably getting old, but ... I feel like I'm throwing the ball pretty well. Right now, balls aren't going at people."
Lugo conceded that there was one ball he could have fielded. The second batter of the inning, Dioner Navarro, hit one toward the hole and Lugo ranged over and seemed in perfect position to not only snare it, but perhaps start a 6-4-3 double play. Instead, it went right under his glove for a single. A sacrifice bunt then turned into a single when B.J. Upton beat the throw to first base. From there, as it turned out, the floodgates opened.
"I just couldn't come up with the ball," Lugo said. "I could have come up with that ball; I just didn't. The other ones, there was nothing I could do about it."
However, the fans targeted Lugo for the rest of the day, giving him a Bronx cheer when he caught a popup to end that inning and booing him as he stepped to the plate in his next at-bat.
"It's always good to have them on your side because no one -- there's no one in any sport who can tell you it doesn't bother you, the fans booing you," Lugo said. "If somebody says that, it's [a lie]. It bothers you. It ... bothers me. But, you know, there's nothing you can do about it. People also need to understand you're not perfect. We're human beings -- that's why we're here. If not, I would have wings. I would be beside God right now. I would be an angel. I'm a human being."
Lugo has also played just nine games since returning from right knee surgery, this after missing the entire second half of 2008 with a quad injury.
"There's nothing you can do but play and feel comfortable out there," Lugo said. "That comes with time."
As for Lester, he just can't seem to get into that comfort zone he was in last year, when he went 16-6 and was the anchor of the rotation. Lester is 2-3 with a 6.31 ERA.
"We don't get paid to go out there and say, 'I felt good,' but we lost," Lester said. "That doesn't do anything. We get paid to win ballgames and to pitch deep into the game, and right now it just seems like it's few and far between. It seems like I have some good innings strung together and some bad ones. I guess back to the drawing board tomorrow, and figure it out and make whatever adjustments we need to make."
Red Sox manager Terry Francona thought Lester's results were indeed far worse than what should have been based on how he actually threw the ball.
"I was frustrated for him because I thought he was throwing the ball pretty well," Francona said. "The last thing I want to do, and I would never do this, is throw a game on [Lugo]. If Navarro hits the ball [for a double play], potentially it's nobody on, two outs. That doesn't happen. We need to convert the bunt by [B.J. Upton], things like that. Usually it's not as bad as somebody's line. Sometimes it's not as good. It's usually in the middle somewhere."
Scott Kazmir wasn't at his best either, but he didn't need to be. The lefty allowed eight hits and three runs over five innings to earn the win, setting up the rubber match of this three-game series on Sunday night.
There were precious few highlights for the Red Sox on the day. Rocco Baldelli hit his first homer in his new uniform, a solo shot against his former team in the bottom of the second inning.
"I don't hit that many of them so they're all kind of special to me," quipped Baldelli. "It was nice to get us on the board early in the game, but I wish it could have turned out a little better."
The day wasn't all bad for Lugo. In the sixth, he added his first home run since June 20, 2008, a solo shot into the Monster Seats.
"Yeah, I feel good," Lugo said. "Good to get back in the swing of things, hit your first home run in a while. It feels good to do something, something good. I feel good at the plate right now."
But nobody feels better at the plate these days than Tampa Bay's young star, Evan Longoria. The third baseman had yet another big day against Boston, producing an early two-run homer against Lester and later ripping a two-run double off the Green Monster that just missed being a grand slam. Longoria has five homers and 21 RBIs against the Red Sox this season.
"He's on pace for 200 RBIs," Francona said. "I would call that hot. He's one of the best players in the league."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.