Lester escapes with win in Chicago
Rookie left-hander improves to 4-0; Ortiz homers again
CHICAGO -- One thing that is sticking out in these early days of rookie Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester is that he's every bit as capable of getting out of a jam as he is of creating one.
There will surely come a day when a more seasoned Lester has sharper command and doesn't make a habit of loading the bases with less than two outs. In the meantime, as long as he keeps reducing the damage, the Red Sox have little complaint with the job he is doing.
Another adventurous outing for Lester ended happily, with Boston emerging with a 7-2 victory Friday night in the first of a three-game series with the defending World Series champion White Sox. It was the first time the Red Sox faced the White Sox since the indignity of being swept out of last October's Division Series.
Not that Lester was that into the subplot.
"Any game I'm getting up for," said Lester. "There's no extra butterflies or anything like that. It feels good to get a win and do halfway decent against them with the type of lineup they have."
Lester (4-0, 3.06 ERA) weaved in and out of trouble, scattering six hits and two runs over six innings while walking three and striking out three. The Red Sox have won the last five games he's pitched.
"He's good, he mixes up his pitches well to the hitters, once he gets all of them [over], to not walk that many people, he's going to be as dominant as any pitcher in the league," said Boston center fielder Coco Crisp, who ended an 0-for-23 slump with a single and homer. "He did a great job today of mixing up his pitches. He has the good stuff, and the mindset to be one of the best pitchers in the game."
But he's not there yet. David Ortiz, on the other hand, has long since been among the best hitters in the game.
Obviously not worn down from a monster night 24 hours earlier, Ortiz came out swinging, roping a two-run homer to right in the first, his 30th of the season. That long ball made Ortiz the first player in the long history of the Red Sox to hit 30 home runs before the All-Star break.
"I'm just trying to do my thing," said Ortiz. "A lot of work, a lot of ups and downs, but you have to keep fighting."
The superstar slugger has been warming up for the upcoming Century 21 Home Run Derby on ESPN, launching seven homers in the first eight games of this road trip.
"I don't keep track of all the dingers," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "I'm glad, he's a great hitter and everything he does, we appreciate."
There were plenty of other contributors to this one. No. 9 hitter Alex Gonzalez went 4-for-4. The bullpen came on and fired three shutout innings in place of Lester, with Manny Delcarmen, Mike Timlin and Julian Tavarez performing the honors.
Lester lacked command early, but the White Sox did not take advantage as much as they could have. Or perhaps that's because Lester simply wouldn't let them. With the bases loaded and one out in the first, Jermaine Dye hit a sacrifice fly to center to cut the Boston lead to 2-1, and Lester got out of the inning with no further damage.
"He's shown a very good amount of poise at a young age," Francona said. "You have to have stuff with it or it doesn't matter. It's a nice combination. He keeps his composure, he keeps his wits about him. He executes pitches."
The White Sox again loaded them up, this time with nobody out, in the third, thanks to three straight singles. Again, Lester limited the damage to a mere sac fly from Dye to tie the game at 2.
"The first inning, I put myself in that position and luckily got out of it," Lester said. "In the third inning, they hit some good pitches and loaded the bases. I was just fortunate enough to get out of there with one run each time."
Steadily, the Red Sox took back the momentum. Mike Lowell roped an RBI single to left off Mark Buehrle in the fourth. Coco Crisp started a rally in the fifth by producing his first hit since June 29, a bloop single to right.
"Just getting rewarded, who cares where it landed," said Francona. "You saw the big smile on his face, that was huge. You can line out all you want, and pat him on the back and say nice swing, but it's nice to be on first with a hit."
Gonzalez slapped a single to right, sending Crisp to third. And Crisp then utilized his speed, narrowly scoring on a sac fly by Kevin Youkilis to give Boston a 4-2 edge.
Gabe Kapler got another rally started in the seventh with a double to left and Gonzalez flared an RBI single to center to make it a three-run cushion. Lowell and Crisp connected on solo homers in the ninth.
This was a far more positive experience against the White Sox than those frustrating contests of nine months ago.
"Their pitching staff is deeper," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. "Look at what they have in the field. When you have great defense, you see Alex and Lowell make a couple of plays. The infield is deeper. I said earlier, I was watching them on TV, and there's no doubt they have a better ballclub this year than they had last year."
The Red Sox just hope to prove that point in three months, be it against the White Sox or someone else.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.