After perfect start, Lester stuck with loss
Lefty retires first 16, but error, homer end bids for history
SEATTLE -- There was no such thing as perfection for Jon Lester on a night he had brilliant stuff. Second career no-hitter? Nope, that wasn't going to happen either. And as evidenced by the icy look on Lester's face as he held court after the game, a win wasn't even in the cards.
It was an all-around frustrating night for the power lefty and the Red Sox, who took a 5-1 loss to the Mariners on Saturday night at Safeco Field.
Nobody could have seen this coming, not when Lester came out absolutely blazing, retiring the first 16 batters he faced. Lester, the pride of Puyallup, Wash., had a perfect game going through 5 1/3 innings against the Mariners, the team he rooted for as a kid. That bid was lost when center fielder Eric Patterson dropped a fly ball by Jack Wilson for a two-base error with one out in the sixth. Patterson had to run quite a ways to get to the ball, but he was in position to make the play and flat-out dropped it.
From there, basically nothing good happened for the Red Sox the rest of the night.
"I had Jack shaded a little [to the opposite field]," said Patterson. "He likes to hit the ball to the gap in right field. Off the bat saw it well, I probably over-ran it a little bit knowing I had to cover some extra ground. But there's no excuse. It doesn't matter what the situation, that ball has to be caught. It seemed to turn the momentum of the game and kind of unfortunate it happened."
Michael Saunders stepped up next and belted a 2-2 curveball high, far and gone to right field. Not only was Lester's no-hitter gone, but the Red Sox suddenly trailed, 2-1.
"I hung a curveball to a guy that I shouldn't have," said Lester. "He made a good swing -- hit it out."
How much did it sting for Lester to not be able to turn such electric stuff into a win?
"You basically said it," Lester said.
The Red Sox picked a bad night to muster just one run -- courtesy of a homer by David Ortiz in the fourth.
"That's as good as stuff as we've seen all year," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "The outcome is a shame. He pitched better than the linescore will show, for sure. He had a perfect game going for half the game. Then we drop a fly ball and then he hung a breaking ball, probably the first bad pitch he threw all night."
But the game was still very winnable for the Red Sox, at least until the bottom of the eighth. Milton Bradley led off with a triple to right-center. With one out, Wilson dropped down a squeeze bunt, scoring Bradley.
The Red Sox weren't caught off-guard by the bunt. Wilson just happened to execute it perfectly.
"That's why [pitching coach] John Farrell went to the mound," Francona said. "He did exactly what he was supposed to do. Sometimes he gets that bunt down, you tip your hat. I don't know how he did it."
The unraveling continued after the bunt. Saunders reached on an infield hit and Ichiro Suzuki walked. Chone Figgins ripped an RBI double, ending Lester's night at pitch No. 124. Manny Delcarmen came on and walked Franklin Gutierrez and hit Jose Lopez, making it 5-1.
Lester gave up four hits and five runs (four earned) over 7 2/3 innings, walking one and notching a career high of 13 strikeouts. It was the most strikeouts by a Boston lefty since Bruce Hurst punched out 14 Oakland Athletics on May 5, 1987.
"He brought no-hit stuff to the table," Red Sox catcher Kevin Cash said. "We hung a breaking ball to Saunders, and he put a good swing on it. That was probably just as much my fault as it was his, simply because we got ahead of him with fastballs and maybe could've picked up that he might've been sitting on [the curve]. It's disappointing when you throw a game like that, especially when he's your big horse -- you definitely want to get the win."
With the loss, the Red Sox trail the Rays by four games in the American League Wild Card standings and the Yankees by seven games in the AL East.
While the pitching is back to full health, the offense has struggled of late without the bats of Dustin Pedroia, Victor Martinez and Jacoby Ellsbury.
In this one, they couldn't muster much of anything against David Pauley, who allowed one run on five hits in 5 2/3 innings. The Sox have scored four runs or fewer in 10 of their last 11 games.
"We need to produce more, man," said Ortiz. "Our offense has been kind of slow lately. We haven't been able to get that going. The other night we scored six runs, and we need to try to go back to that, to give our pitching more comfortable situations."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.