Watching Lester work recently has really been painful. It gets better every time he goes out there, but you can just tell that he’s laboring with every pitch. There are no health reports that would suggest that there’s anything physically wrong with him. For whatever reason, things aren’t coming easily. There are times when watching his cut fastball whiz by a hitter staring in disbelief as it slices the air in front of him is a thing of beauty. But these days are not one of those times. These days, Lester is lucky if he gets through five innings with minimal damage. These days are daily grinds. Stretches like this occur in the career of every pitcher, but watching an ace go through it is just sad.
In light of that, we were going to take whatever we could get from Lester. Fortunately, he managed to deliver just enough to get us through. Which of course was made all the more satisfying by the fact that we were playing the Evil Empire. (In case you haven’t noticed, most positives of the game are more satisfying when playing the Evil Empire.)
Lester fired off 112 pitches over six innings; one positive that may result from this stretch is increased stamina and durability since he’s throwing a ton of pitches every time he goes out there. He allowed three runs on eight hits while walking one and striking out five with the help of sixty-six strikes overall. He didn’t give up any home runs; he just generally doesn’t have as much life on his cut fastball as he does when he’s more effective. And that means that he misses spots and provides opportunities for constructive contact. It’s not like he made one big mistake that allowed a hitter to go yard; he just made several small mistakes that resulted in quite a bit of hits. That and he was inefficient. He threw thirty-three pitches in the first inning alone and hit two batters but gave up only one run. His best inning, hands-down, was obviously the third, when he secured all three outs using only six pitches, four for strikes. That was thanks in part to Drew’s phenomenal leaping catch to end the inning. Now that’s efficiency. I guess those two innings balance out. But the bottom line is that, while this outing obviously could have been much, much worse, it sure wasn’t his best. You could say that the mark of a true ace is to go through stretches like this and still get wins. And that’s what Lester did last night. The final score was 6-4. He’s won his last five starts against New York, our only pitcher to do that since Reggie Cleveland did it in the 1970s. He’s won his last four starts against New York in New York, our only pitcher to do that since Roger Clemens did it in the 1980s.
It was a fun game. Obviously beating the Yankees is always fun, but it was also just good baseball. Ellsbury led off the series with a solo shot on a hanging breaking ball that would’ve been a ball had he left it alone. Instead, it ended up in the seats in right field, and Ellsbury ended up crossing the plate. It was his fourth leadoff homer and first since 2008. I would say that’s the ideal way to start a series.
The fun continued with a five-pitch walk to Pedroia, followed by a triple by Gonzalez to bring him in and a sac fly by Youk to bring Gonzalez in. Salty walked to lead off the second and scored on a double by Pedroia. Nobody scored again until the fifth, which Gonzalez led off with an intentional walk. Goodbye, Freddy Garcia. Then Papi said hello to Luis Ayala by unleashing on a fastball and planted it in right field as well. He just uncorked a massive swing on it like it was no big deal. He just brought that bat all the way around and tossed it away like it was a toothpick. There was no doubt the minute that ball left the bat that it was going out. Joe Girardi took issue with Papi’s post-swing bat flip, but he’s a slugger, and that’s just what sluggers do.
The Yanks got two back in the fifth. Jenks reinjured himself in the seventh; he did something to his back on his fourth pitch of the night and is day-to-day. Albers came in for the rest of the seventh, and Bard came in for the eighth. Paps allowed a run in the ninth, at which point I started to feel really uneasy about the fact that Ellsbury ended the top of the ninth by trying to stretch a double into a triple, but he held on for his two hundredth save. And it’s only taken him 359 appearances to get there. He has reached that milestone faster than anyone history.
Other thing worthy of note are the fact that Paps is appealing a three-game suspension he received for his conduct during Saturday’s game (which means that he’ll be able to pitch in this series), Scutaro is back from the DL and Lowrie’s shoulder is hurt, and Buchholz will pitch Friday instead of today due to a sore back, which has apparently been a problem for the entire season so far. And last but not least, Papi was the American League’s Player of the Week. During that week, he batted .545 with four doubles, two homers, and six RBIs. Crawford had won the honor the previous week.
We are now tied with them for first place. That’s why this series is huge. We want to beat the Yankees whenever we can and preferably as frequently as possible, but now would definitely be the time to do it. This series could put us in sole possession of first place definitively.
In other news, the Bruins decimated the Canucks, 8-1. We scored four goals in the second period and four more in the third, and Tim Thomas made forty spectacular saves. The terrible news is that Nathan Horton is out for the rest of the playoffs due to a severe concussion he received in the first period from Aaron Rome, who deserved every second of his five-minute major, game misconduct, and longest suspension in Stanley Cup finals history.