08/15/10 12:58 AM ET
On hot night, Lester coolly handles Rangers
Despite feeling ill, lefty tosses eight shutout innings for 13th win
By Todd Wills / Special to MLB.com
Lester rightfully had his shiny new boots on after Saturday's 3-1 victory over the Rangers, on a night in which he rode roughshod over a whole list of obstacles.
Try a 102-degree game-time temperature that didn't let up all night -- it was the second hottest night in 17 years at Rangers Ballpark. And an upset stomach to go with it. And the two consecutive losses the Red Sox brought into Saturday's game that made all of New England want to throw up.
Lester was masterful, giving his team an enormous boost with eight shutout innings. The left-hander allowed only five hits and was able to pitch out the one true jam he faced all night, all while fighting the effects of pitching under insufferable conditions.
The Red Sox were also desperate for a win after closer Jonathan Papelbon blew a three-run lead in the ninth inning Thursday in Toronto and after the Red Sox lost an 8-2 lead to the Rangers on Friday night -- even if manager Terry Francona shot down the desperation theory after the game.
"It was nice to come out and give us a quality start and win a game after two losses," Lester said. "That was big for us."
Lester, who has defeated division leaders New York and Texas in consecutive starts -- not allowing a run -- said he is "mentally a better pitcher" after beating the Yankees and Rangers. It's hard to argue with that considering he had to overcome a potent lineup that produced 10 runs on Friday on an evening that was just very difficult to deal with.
"The heat got to him a little bit," Francona said. "He was queasy, a little sick to his stomach. He had a quick seventh and we took him out of eighth. He knew.
"Getting [David] Murphy out, it's 1-0 and we've got to play the infield in. If they score that run, it's a whole different ballgame."
Clinging to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the seventh, Lester allowed a one-out triple to Rangers right fielder Nelson Cruz. But Lester got one of the American League's hottest clutch hitters, Murphy, to ground out to first. And then Jorge Cantu grounded out to second to end the inning.
"[I was] trying to execute pitches," Lester said. "I did that to Murphy and fortunately he rolled it over to Mike Lowell. I was one pitch away after that. I did a good job of that tonight, taking it one pitch at a time."
Lester picked up his 13th victory of the season, tying him with Clay Buchholz for the team lead and leaving him two behind the AL lead shared by three pitchers.
Lester came to the rescue of the Boston bullpen -- Francona said before Saturday's game that Papelbon and setup man Daniel Bard were not available. Lester said after the game that he wasn't pushing himself harder to go eight or nine innings, that he tries to do that every start.
"Obviously I know what the situation is and it would be nice to go deep into the game," Lester said. "But you're not out there trying to press and say I got to do this. Just try and take it my pitch and one inning at a time. I was able to do that and give the bullpen a little bit of a break."
J.D. Drew gave the Red Sox the lead in the fifth inning with a two-out single. Ryan Kalish led off the inning with a single and moved to second on a passed ball. He went to third on an infield single by Marco Scutaro, setting up Drew's single to right field.
The Red Sox added two insurance runs in the top of the ninth, ending a 26 1/3-scoreless-innings streak for Rangers reliever Darren O'Day. Lowell led off the inning with a double up the left-center-field alley, Kalish added a single to left and Bill Hall followed with an RBI single.
Scutaro made it 3-0 with a sacrifice fly, a ball that was dropped by Rangers center fielder Julio Borbon.
While Lester's effort was the story of the night, the interesting subplot was the two outs that reliever Felix Doubront recorded in the bottom of the ninth. Holding onto a 3-1 lead and with Vladimir Guerrero at first base, Doubront got a fastball to home plate quickly, allowing catcher Victor Martinez to throw out Guerrero attempting to steal second.
Doubront then struck out rookie Mitch Moreland looking to end the game. With Papelbon not available to pitch, it was a pressure situation for Doubront, and he handled it with ease.
"He's not going to shrink from competing," Francona said. "It's actually pretty exciting."
Todd Wills is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.