BOSTON -- Until the sixth inning, it looked like Jon Lester was going to escape shaky command and some hard luck to put the Red Sox in position to hand him his American League-leading eighth win of the season.
But after stranding baserunners in every inning yet scoring just three runs off Lester heading into the sixth, the White Sox finally busted through, scoring four in the inning and sailing to a 7-3 win at Fenway Park on Monday night.
"It was one of those nights where I just battled myself," said Lester, whose ERA rose from 3.36 to 3.94 after giving up a season-high seven runs. "I couldn't get in a rhythm. When I actually did throw it over the plate, the ball was up. I just think it was one of those deals where I got a little ahead of myself working east to west instead of north to south."
Lester had a hard time finishing hitters off, getting the first three batters of the game to two-strike counts but yielding a base hit to Alexei Ramirez and hitting Carlos Quentin before the White Sox took an early 2-0 lead on an A.J. Pierzynski single. Quentin was hit twice by Lester, who also walked four batters and allowed eight hits.
"Quentin is going to get hit," said manager Terry Francona. "That second ball is almost a strike. It's not a strike, but that is not a lot of margin for error there. So it's going to happen. He's big and strong. If you let him get extended, he's going to hurt you. If you pitch him in, even a ball off the plate, it hits [him]."
Lester said the only pitch he felt complete control of was his cutter, which he threw 43 times, more than any other pitch.
"It was the only pitch I could throw for strikes," said Lester, who finished May with a 5.50 ERA. "I had to throw it. I had no command of my fastball. I threw a couple of decent changeups and I think I threw one curveball for a strike just because I got a checked-swing [called strike] at it. It was really the only pitch I could command, so we had to use it."
Lester tossed a season-high 127 pitches, throwing just 72 for strikes. He hadn't thrown that many pitches since hurling his no-hitter against the Royals in May 2008, when he threw 130. Francona said he left him in the game longer than usual since Lester, who picked up his first loss since April 12, won't pitch again until June 7.
Aside from a third-inning solo blast by Paul Konerko that left Fenway Park in a hurry, none of the White Sox hits were struck particularly hard, as the Boston outfielders fielded every ball in front of them.
But ground balls barely escaped the infield and bloopers seemed to drop in the perfect spot, including Ramirez's two-run double that dropped between Adrian Gonzalez and J.D. Drew in right field.
"They hit pitches that were up in the zone and usually when you get a pitch up in the zone, you get jammed or beat, they find holes," said Gonzalez. "It was just one of those days where we just got beat."
And for just the second time in nine games, the Red Sox offense scored fewer than four runs.
Former National League Cy Young Award winner Jake Peavy maintained his undefeated record (2-0) through four starts, needing 112 pitches to get through seven innings while giving up three runs.
"Tonight, I felt 30 [years old] tonight," Peavy said. "Tonight was a grind, but we got through it ... There's no better lineup in baseball than that one right there. At their ballpark and to come away with a quality start and a win, I'm as happy as I can be."
Gonzalez hit his 10th home run of the season in the first inning, hitting a rare blast over Fenway's right-field porch for just the second time this season. It was his first at-bat against Peavy, his former teammate with the Padres.
"I know how he's going to pitch," said Gonzalez, who has 31 RBIs in May, most for a Boston player since David Ortiz knocked in 35 in July 2006. "I know how he attacks hitters and the mentality at times. You can never be right, but you go up there with a certain plan you think will work and, at the end of the day, it's about execution."
After falling behind, 3-1, into the third, the Red Sox fought back on a two-run single by Dustin Pedroia, who sent a line drive over Peavy's head into center to score Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jacoby Ellsbury.
Ellsbury was 1-for-4 and extended his hitting streak to six games. Ortiz picked up a pair of hits to raise his average to .306, the highest mark he's held at this point in the season since 2007.
Drew Sutton was 0-for-3 while filling in at shortstop for Jed Lowrie, who was held out with stiffness in his left shoulder.
Michael Bowden pitched two scoreless innings to finish the game in his first appearance of the season. He's a candidate to be demoted to Triple-A Pawtucket on Tuesday when Bobby Jenks is activated from the 15-day disabled list.
Despite two straight losses, the Red Sox will end May with the American League's best record for the month, standing at 19-9 before Tuesday's game.
Jason Mastrodonato is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.