Lester outduels Halladay in win
Young southpaw puts on show as Red Sox gain ground
BOSTON -- It were the little things that made the difference. When facing a pitching powerhouse like Roy Halladay, that's usually the case.
So that's exactly what Boston did on Sunday at Fenway Park, manufacturing meticulous runs and timely defensive plays throughout a well-pitched ballgame. In the end, the Red Sox scampered away with a 4-3 victory over the Jays, snaring three of the four games in this weekend series.
Coupled with the Rays' loss to the Yankees, the Sox now sit just one game back in the American League East standings.
This particular tilt centered around two very overpowering presences on the mound: Halladay and Jon Lester. The Red Sox lefty is living through a season that could be remembered as his breakout campaign and was every bit as good as his Cy Young Award-winning counterpart.
"Anytime you go up against Halladay or a pitcher like that, you just try to pitch your game and not worry about what he's doing to our team and hopefully have shutdown innings," Lester said. "We were fortunate enough to get a couple runs early and then have some shutdown innings and score some late runs."
Lester dominated the Toronto lineup all afternoon -- his lone blemish coming on a Jose Batista solo home run in the first inning. From there, Lester commanded the strike zone with his fastball and didn't shy away from throwing an electric curveball at any point in the count.
The results were as advertised for the 15-game winner. He went eight innings, giving up that lone run on four hits. For as good as Halladay was in his performance, he couldn't quite match the production of the 24-year-old southpaw.
"Boy, he was good," manager Terry Francona said. "Good thing; Halladay was pretty good, too."
Boston supported Lester early with two hard-fought runs. In the first, Jacoby Ellsbury singled and stole second, reached third on a Dustin Pedroia sacrifice bunt and came home on a David Ortiz groundout.
In the second, Jason Bay doubled, advanced to third and crossed the plate via a Coco Crisp single. Crisp would add an RBI single in the seventh, quietly going 2-for-3 as the ninth hitter while driving in those two crucial runs early.
"We have the complete package here ... not looking for the big boppers to win the game with a home run," Crisp said, who is batting .444 (32-for-72) in his past 22 games. "That's, obviously, nice to have that capability on our squad."
Crisp's batting average over that 22-game span is the best in the Majors, and it's seemingly going unnoticed due to his movement back and forth from batting first and ninth in this dangerous Sox lineup.
But his presence is undeniable, and he made big contributions to Lester's strong pitching on Sunday.
"It makes it a lot easier when you don't have to deal with too much, just focus on the game and trying to have fun," Crisp said. "It's nice to fly underneath the radar."
By the bottom of the eighth inning, the Sox had a 3-1 lead, knocked Halladay out of the game and looked to add an insurance run before Jonathan Papelbon entered in the ninth. They got it thanks to a rare triple by Ortiz, who came home on a sacrifice fly by Kevin Youkilis one batter later.
With the three-run lead, Papelbon came in looking for his 38th save. It came, but it didn't come without help from the biggest single play of the afternoon.
The first three batters Papelbon faced collected hits -- a double by Vernon Wells, and two singles by Adam Lind and Lyle Overbay.
Wells scored on Lind's single, cutting the score to 4-2. When Overbay sent a ball off the Green Monster, Lind headed to third while Overbay was called out stretching his base hit into a double. The result was one on and one out, instead of the tying run in scoring position with no outs.
The reactions were certainly mixed.
"It is because a couple of calls go our way and we're still playing," Jays manager Cito Gaston said. "And that's what's disappointing."
"That changes the whole way the ninth inning unfolds," Francona added. "That was a terrific play."
It was a situation where Bay fielded the ball off the wall, knowing he had no shot at throwing the runner at third out. So he turned around, fired a strike to Dustin Pedroia at second and got the biggest out of the game.
It potentially saved Lester's masterpiece, and helped Papelbon avoid his second blown save of the homestand.
"I just try to contribute on some level every day," Bay said. "And today it happened to be on that play."
That it did, and it came in no small situation.
The results propelled Boston to within a game of Tampa Bay, handed Lester a career-high 15th win and abruptly sent Toronto into a third loss in four games after winning 11 of 12 entering Friday.
That's the mark of a team inching toward a spot in the 2008 postseason.
"We've been playing good baseball for a while," Lester said. "All we can worry about is winning our games and playing hard in our games."
Mark Remme is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.