Sox's offense picks up Lester
Lefty struggles with command, but Boston's bats catch fire
BALTIMORE -- The lefty was not at his overpowering best, but he didn't need to be. The Red Sox had Jon Lester's back in a number of ways on Saturday night, fueling an 11-5 victory over the Orioles at Camden Yards.
Lester (14-7, 3.33 ERA) did find the win column again, weaving out of traffic well enough to give up just three runs, despite allowing 10 hits over six-plus innings.
How did Lester rate it?
"I don't know. We won. You have to look at it that way," said Lester, who turned in his team-leading 22nd quality start. "It wasn't my best, but we kept the team in the ballgame. We were able to score runs late. The main thing is we won the ballgame. That's what we came in here tonight and tried to do. That's what we try to do every night."
There were several ingredients to set up this triumph, including a timely stolen base by Dustin Pedroia, a dazzling defensive stop by Alex Gonzalez that started a double play and a balanced attack offensively in which every starter had at least one hit.
"I was just trying to minimize the damage and not let the game get out of reach -- keep them in the game as long as possible," said Lester. "And as we've shown through the year and tonight, if our pitchers do that, we're going to win a lot more ballgames."
It was a competitive game until the eighth, when the Red Sox erupted for a five-spot that included back-to-back homers by J.D. Drew (three-run shot) and Brian Anderson. Josh Reddick contributed a home run to the cause in the second, a two-run smash on a night he was filling in for an ill Jason Bay.
The Red Sox seem to be clicking in just about every way of late, as they roared to their 10th win in their past 12 games, not to mention 15 out of 20 and a 26-11 mark since Aug. 10 that is the best in the Majors.
With 15 games left, the Red Sox lead the Rangers by seven games in the American League Wild Card standings. Their magic number for clinching a postseason berth is down to nine.
"It's good for us, I think mentally more than anything, is the fact that we're playing good baseball right now and we're starting to get results," Lester said. "I think we've had kind of a skewed, not necessarily season, but I guess you could say that. We've had a lot of ups and downs. We've battled through some injuries. It seems like now, balls that need to fall are falling and guys are driving the ball out of the ballpark when we need it. It's big right now and hopefully we can keep going in this direction, and like I said, hopefully make it to the playoffs and keep it going."
The Red Sox are now 15-2 against the Orioles this season.
Trailing, 3-2, in the top of the sixth, David Ortiz led off with a double to right and Mike Lowell singled him home.
Pedroia helped spark the go-ahead rally in the seventh. He led off with a single and then got almost too good a jump to steal second.
"I'm glad he wasn't peeking over," said Pedroia. "Otherwise, I would have been out."
Pedroia moved to third on a groundout by Victor Martinez and scored on a single to left-center by Kevin Youkilis.
"It was good baseball," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "Thankfully he didn't step off. Sometimes Pedey thinks he's invisible. Pedey does that and Victor gets him over. It's good baseball."
Drew and Lowell added RBI singles and Boston had a 6-3 lead.
When Jeff Fiorentino led off the seventh with a single, Lester was removed in favor of Billy Wagner. With one out, Gonzalez made a terrific stab on one knee of a grounder by Cesar Izturis, starting a pretty 6-4-3 double play.
"I know the score doesn't indicate it now, but that was a huge part of the game," Francona said. "What a double play. Let alone, not a hit, but to turn a double play out of that is a great play."
The Red Sox have come to expect such heroics from Gonzalez.
"Obviously we've seen that before from him, in '06," said Lester. "But it was just an unbelievable double play. It's nice to have him out there playing for us again and doing stuff like that."
Gonzalez might make it look easy, but he admitted that wasn't the case.
"It's not easy. You've just got to be ready, try to make the play," Gonzalez said. "I was ready for any ground ball to me to try to get out of that inning. It was a big play. He made a great pitch and we turned a double play."
From there, the Red Sox put it out of reach. And that proved to be fortunate when Manny Delcarmen continued his recent struggles by giving up two homers in the ninth.
"He's just flying open or running away from his arm," Francona said. "The fastball doesn't have the finish. The fastball gets a little flat. The breaking ball doesn't have that finish. He just doesn't quite have the life through the zone."
Ramon Ramirez came on and closed out the win.
The Red Sox will try to whittle down their magic number some more on Sunday, when they send Daisuke Matsuzaka to the mound in search of the sweep.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.