Despite frustration, Lester doesn't unravel

Despite frustration, Lester doesn't unravel
April 25, 2013, 1:30 am
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BOSTON – The strike zone was not to Jon Lester’s liking. Not the zone of Jerry Layne, who started as home-plate umpire, or Mike Estabrook, who took over in the top of the fourth inning after Layne was hit in the left hand by a foul ball and had to leave the game.

Those were the kinds of things that would irk Lester last season to the point where he would unravel, lose focus, and many times, lose the game. It was something Lester cited in spring training as one of the things he knew he needed to work on.

And, while he showed some frustration with the calls he was getting -- and those he was not --– on Wednesday afternoon against the A’s, he did not let it unravel him. The game wasn’t Lester’s best performance, but it was enough to earn him the win, as the Sox beat the A’s, 6-5.

Lester acknowledged he had some frustration with balls-and-strikes calls.

“Keep trying to pound the strike zone,” he said. “We didn’t get one of those (called a strike) all day -- the outside corner with the backdoor cutter --– so we kept trying to go through it. It was never a strike so we needed to execute pitches off of that and minimize the damage and I was able to do that.

“I mean once or twice, it’s easy. After a while it’s frustrating to the point of keep making those pitches. It is what it is. It’s a ball, regardless. That’s the biggest thing is the frustration builds up. One or two or three here or there is one thing, but through the course of a game like that, just continually happens, it’s frustrating because I’m an emotional person. Always have been and it’s tough to control that sometimes.”

And he acknowledged the situation was odd because his frustration was built on calls from two different umpires.

“It was like it was the same guy,” he said. “I never had that before. Little weird to have learn a strike zone in middle of the game. I didn’t have to learn anything because it was pretty much the same as before. Like I said, it’s frustrating for me but at the same time they’re balls. I’ve got to forget about it and minimize the damage.”

While it wasn’t his best outing, it was good enough for Lester to remain undefeated, at 4-0, although his ERA climbed from 1.73 to 2.27.

“I wouldn’t say I didn’t have good stuff,” Lester said. “I thought I had good stuff. Early on a battle with a lot of foul balls. But, yeah, big to get a win right there. Offense picked me up after giving up the three-run homer right there. We scored three, tied up, good job to score some more runs.”

Lester went just 5 2/3 innings -- his shortest outing since five innings on Opening Day -- giving up three runs on six hits and six walks with five strikeouts and a home run. The six walks were one shy of his career high. Entering the game, Lester had given up just four total walks in 26 innings this season.

The home run – a three-run blast by Chris Young in the fourth, giving the A’s a 3-0 lead – was the first Lester has given up this season.

Lester threw 115 pitches, matching his season high, which he threw in his previous outing. He needed 65 pitches to get through the first three innings – 22 in the first, 22 in the second, and 21 in the third.

Fortunately for Lester, his offense put up six runs between the fifth and the sixth innings, and the bullpen held the A’s offense at bay.

Lester left in the fifth with two outs and the bases loaded. Junichi Tazawa entered, getting Coco Crisp to fly out, saving Lester from any further damage.

“[The A’s] did an outstanding job against him,” said manager John Farrell. “They fouled off a lot a balls against him. They ran his pitch count up. I think he showed a little frustration with the strike zone in the bottom of it. But he made a couple of big pitches and after the three-run homer he righted the ship, put up a zero after we scored the three runs to tie it. To their credit they had a lot of good at-bats and this was a very good series win the way we came out of it today.”

The outing snapped Lester’s string of three consecutive quality starts. It also snapped his streak of allowing two or fewer runs in his four previous outings this season. But on this day, it was good enough for a ‘W.’

“Those are the things that allow you to have a big year and we’ve got a long way to go,” Farrell said. “I think something kind of clicked after the three-run homer and when we answered I thought he settled right in and had one of his best innings of the day in that fifth inning.

“We were hopeful he could get through sixth. Most importantly Jon has solidified his delivery where he can make adjustments inside the game. And that was the case today. We had some reminders between innings He made some good pitches and, you know what, [Layne's] zone was very liberal at the bottom of it. Got to continue to block that out and execute and for the most part he did just that.”