Vintage Lester dominates Orioles
Lefty fans nine through seven shutout frames
BOSTON -- With conviction in his voice, Jon Lester said after his first two starts -- both of which were subpar -- that there was nothing wrong with him. But on Sunday against the Orioles, his arm conveyed the same message, as the lefty turned in a dominant performance in leading the Red Sox to a 2-1 victory.
Lester reeled off seven shutout innings, allowing four hits and two walks while striking out nine. He threw 108 pitches, 67 for strikes.
It was a drastic change from those first two losses, when Lester was hammered for 18 hits and 11 runs over 11 innings while looking nothing like the guy who had a breakout 16-6 season in 2008.
Sunday was different, though, as this was top-shelf Lester.
"[After the] previous starts, I kept saying that I threw the ball better than the linescore showed," Lester said. "It was nice today to go out and throw the ball well again and get the results I wanted to. It just reiterates in the back of your mind that, 'OK, nothing is wrong, I'm still OK' and just move forward."
With his fastball exploding in the upper 90s in the first inning, it was clear that Lester was strong in this one.
"He threw the ball great," said second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "I looked out there in the first inning, and he's throwing 96. One [pitch] was 97. He had great stuff today. He's going to definitely build on that and continue to throw the ball well."
All Lester needed to make the performance stand up was a little bit of offense.
The Red Sox were sparked in the second inning by -- who else? -- Kevin Youkilis. The red-hot first baseman (.468 batting average) clocked a leadoff double to open the inning and scored on Mike Lowell's two-out bloop single to right.
The way Lester was pitching, that run looked as though it might be enough. Just in case, Boston added on in the sixth, when Pedroia smashed an RBI single up the middle to drive in Nick Green. It was Pedroia's second RBI, and the first since his first at-bat of the season, when he belted a homer.
Aside from those two blips, Orioles right-hander Koji Uehara was nearly as good as Lester. With a whipping wind blowing in, this was no day to be a hitter.
"It was tough," Pedroia said. "The wind was blowing in -- violently. It was pretty bad. But we hit some balls well and didn't have much to show for it. We scored enough to be able to win."
After Ramon Ramirez fired a scoreless eighth, Takashi Saito earned the save in the ninth, his first for the Red Sox and the 82nd of his career. Jonathan Papelbon was unavailable, having pitched the previous two days.
Saito got into some trouble at first, giving up singles to Nick Markakis and Aubrey Huff to open the inning. After Ty Wigginton's groundout sent home Markakis to make it a one-run game, Saito made the pitches he needed, getting Luke Scott on a flyout to right and Gregg Zaun on a strikeout to end the game.
For Saito, who had right elbow woes last year, it was the first time he's worked on back-to-back days this season, including Spring Training.
"On a team that has an unquestionable, unmovable closer, it's really encouraging to have the opportunity to be called to the mound in that situation," said Saito. "I wanted to treat it as the same mound as usual and pitch as usual, but today I wanted to leave a good result, no matter what."
For manager Terry Francona, Saito is a nice luxury to have on days when Papelbon is out of the mix.
"It is really nice and gratifying when you end up using the whole team," Francona said. "I know this isn't Little League or Pony League, but we used guys last night, we've been in our bullpen [a lot]. When we can go to different guys on different days and they have success, I think it gives the club a lift. [Saito] was very excited."
Saito merely finished what Lester had started, giving the Red Sox their fourth win in a row and third of this series. Boston will go for the four-game sweep in the annual Patriots Day game, which starts at 11:05 a.m. ET on Monday.
"[Lester] was the guy I remember from last year," said left fielder Jason Bay. "A lot of strikeouts, a lot of defensive swings out there. That's his game."
Lester is a pitcher the Red Sox will lean on heavily this season. If Sunday was any indication, he is again up to the task.
He had a superb fastball-curve contrast in this one.
"Lester had his breaking ball going," said Orioles manager Dave Trembley. "His velocity was better than we had seen from the last time he pitched in Oakland. That's how I'd seen him before -- with that kind of velocity, throwing 93, 94. His breaking ball was very good, and I think that was his out pitch today."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.