09/20/08 7:26 PM ET
Red Sox's chance to clinch put on hold
Lester settles down after rough beginning in bittersweet defeat
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
Jon Lester giving up five runs in the first two innings on a day Roy Halladay was pitching for the Blue Jays? Very, very bitter.
Lester rediscovering himself to the point he would go seven innings on a day manager Terry Francona had the bullpen up in the second inning? Very, very sweet.
Jason Bay -- the prideful Canadian -- clubbing a two-run homer and reaching 100 RBIs on his 30th birthday in Toronto, of all places? Sweet. But such an individual performance coming in a 6-3 loss for the Red Sox on a day the magic number for clinching a postseason berth remained at two? That was bitter.
Showing some life against Halladay and chopping the deficit down to two runs by the third inning? Indisputably sweet. But not being able to get those big hits in the late innings to come all the way back? Definitely bitter.
Ultimately though, it was nothing more or less than a loss for Lester and the Red Sox, and win No. 19 on the season for ace Halladay.
"There's a lot of good," said Lester. "There's a lot more good than bad out of it. To come back after an inning like that and settle down and still go seven innings and somewhat keep the team in the ballgame -- it's one of those things. You can't spot Halladay five runs and hope to have a chance to win that game."
It's just that the Red Sox did have a chance, and that was a neat surprise considering the way the day started. For a while, it looked like an uncanny repeat of Lester's Aug. 23 outing at Toronto, when he lasted just 2 1/3 innings and gave up seven runs in an 11-0 loss.
This time, he gathered himself. For the moment, did the lefty feel a little deja vu?
"A little bit, but I was throwing the ball a lot better than I did the last time," said Lester. "I came in after that inning and asked [catcher Jason Varitek], 'Am I really throwing the ball that bad?' He said, 'No.' They did a good job of hitting some good pitches. I just didn't do a good job of keeping it in control."
The Red Sox can get into the postseason on Sunday with a combination of a win over Toronto and a loss by the Yankees to the Orioles on Sunday night in the last game at Yankee Stadium. Otherwise, the Red Sox can take another crack at it at Fenway Park on Monday, when they open a seven-game homestand.
With eight games left in their season, the 90-64 Red Sox lead the Yankees by 6 1/2 games in the American League Wild Card standings.
"I don't see any reason why we can't get in," said Lester. "We've been playing good baseball. We've been beaten in some tough games and we've also won some tough games. Hopefully we can keep pressing and showing up every day at the yard and hopefully keep wining. It doesn't matter how you get in, if it's wild card or division, you just get in and the lights turn on and hopefully we keep going."
In this one, Lester was scoreless over his last five innings. He topped the 200-inning mark for the first time in his career.
How does Lester feel with one start left in the regular season?
"Like it's September, like I've thrown 200 innings," said Lester. "There's a lot of bumps and bruises along the way. I'll just try to keep pressing and keep working and stay as strong as I can and go out there in five days and pitch against Cleveland."
The Red Sox mounted a rally in the third, and it was staged by the usual suspects. Dustin Pedroia raked a one-out double to left and came home on a single to right-center by David Ortiz.
With two outs, Bay crushed a two-run homer over the wall in left and Boston suddenly trailed by just two runs, at 5-3.
"Not a bad consolation, to hit a home run and get to the 100-RBI mark," said Bay. "Personally, for me, it's a nice little goal. But it's a little tougher with the loss. Going out there against Halladay is never easy. All around, you want to come out with a win, but personally I'll take a little solace in today."
One thing the Red Sox did with Halladay was work up his pitch count. A big factor in that was the fifth inning, when Halladay walked two, and had the bases loaded with two outs. But Jed Lowrie struck out to end that threat.
"I thought we did a pretty good job," said Varitek. "We hit some balls well. We didn't necessarily have all the results. But we put ourselves back in that game, and with him being on the mound up 5-0, it's pretty big for them. But we put ourselves back in the game and we're really one hit away from getting back in there."
It's just that Halladay has a way of making those big hits elusive.
Scott Rolen gave the Jays an insurance run in the eighth, drilling a solo homer to left off Justin Masterson.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.