BOSTON -- He is considered the ace of the Red Sox, but Jon Lester would probably be the first one to admit he hasn't pitched up to his title at this point of the season.
The lefty was drilled for three home runs -- including a grand slam -- in Friday's 7-4 loss to the Rays. Lester lasted just four innings, giving up six hits and seven runs, walking three and striking out four.
"It wasn't good," Lester said. "I didn't locate. I felt like I had to throw a ball in a keyhole. It was one of those nights. When I was missing, I was missing. When I was on the plate, I was in the middle. I didn't make an adjustment. They did a good job of working counts, getting into hitters' counts and making me pay for my mistakes."
Frustration boiled over between the two clubs in the ninth, as Franklin Morales drilled Luke Scott in the leg with two outs. Scott pointed out at Morales and slowly walked toward the mound while jawing at the southpaw. He was separated by catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia as both benches and bullpens spilled out.
After some heated words and pushing, peace was finally restored. There were no ejections, but both benches were warned.
"You know what? I tried to go with my fastball in and I missed, and I don't know, I wasn't trying to do it on purpose," said Morales. "I tried to go in with him and I missed the pitch."
For Boston, it was a flat start to a seven-game homestand.
Over 10 starts, Lester is 3-4 with a 4.72 ERA.
Sure, Lester has had his share of strong performances, but the consistency has been missing.
Friday was the second straight start he gave up four runs or more, and the fourth time he's done so this season.
"It's just one of those nights," Lester said. "Frustrating. We worked so hard to get back to .500, playing good baseball, and I come out and have a performance like this. It's unacceptable. I've got to be better -- plain and simple."
Pinned in a 7-1 hole, the Red Sox didn't quit. In the fifth, Adrian Gonzalez cranked an RBI double off the Monster.
Following a solid enough start by Alex Cobb, Rays manager Joe Maddon went to his bullpen in the sixth. J.P. Howell walked Saltalamacchia and Daniel Nava. Maddon called for righty Burke Badenhop. Marlon Byrd greeted him with an RBI single to right. After a sacrifice bunt from Scott Podsednik, Mike Aviles made it a 7-4 game with a sacrifice fly to center.
The Red Sox could have come all the way back in that sixth, as David Ortiz had a chance to tie the game. But lefty Jake McGee came on and got Big Papi on a flyout to right that landed a few feet in front of the warning track.
McGee fired 1 1/3-shutout innings, retiring all four batters he faced.
"Jake McGee was the hero of tonight's game by the way he came in and settled the whole thing down," said Maddon. "I was very impressed with that."
The Red Sox actually jumped out first, as Kevin Youkilis laced an RBI single to make it a 1-0 game.
But the Rays took the momentum shortly thereafter. In the third, Lester walked Carlos Pena, gave up a single to B.J. Upton and then walked Ben Zobrist to load the bases with two outs. Matt Joyce then ripped his 3-1 fastball for a grand slam, and the Red Sox were suddenly staring at a 4-1 deficit.
"It looked like he had pretty good stuff going in," said manager Bobby Valentine. "After the first inning, he was looking pretty good. The game got away from him a little there with the walk to Pena and the grand slam to Joyce, obviously. The strike zone eluded him. A couple of left-handers who don't hit left-handers all that well got him."
Instead of settling down, Lester got into more trouble in the fourth. No. 9 hitter Elliot Johnson smashed a two-run homer into the Monster Seats in left-center. And Pena made it back-to-back homers by smashing one over the wall in right.
"They make you work," said Lester. "At the same time, when they get their pitch, they're ready to swing. They usually do pretty good with it. That was the case tonight. They'd make me work, but when I did make a mistake, they were able to adjust to whatever pitch I was throwing and get some pretty good wood on it. This is on me. Offense did a great job of working their guys. It should be a different outcome to that game."