BOSTON With the Red Sox hoping to get above .500 for the first time this season, this was not the kind of outing they needed from their ace.
Jon Lester lasted just four innings, giving up seven runs on six hits and three walks with four strikeouts against the light-hitting Rays, who at .246 as a team are 10th in the American League.
Of the six hits Lester allowed, half were home runs, tied for most home runs hes allowed in a game.(He also gave up three twice last season -- April 1, 2011 at Texas and June 18, 2011, against Milwaukee).
Lester took the loss, dropping his record to 3-4 while his ERA climbed from 3.95 to 4.72, as the Rays beat the Sox, 7-4, in the first of their three-game set at Fenway Park.
I wasnt good, didnt locate, he said. Felt like I had to throw the ball in a keyhole. Just one of those nights. When I was missing I was missing and when I was around the plate I was down the middle. Didnt make an adjustment. They did a good job of working counts, getting in hitters counts, make me pay for my mistakes.
Despite a crisp 1-2-3 first inning to start the game, Lester said he felt like he struggled from the start.
The whole time, he said. I think really the only at-bat in the whole game where I feel like I threw the ball where I wanted to, every pitch, was the first inning against Luke Scott who struck out looking at a 91-mph fastball. Other than that, just was a battle. Like I said, they did a good job of making me work and working for their pitch and not missing it. Just one of those nights, just frustrating. We worked so hard to get back to .500, played good baseball. I come out and have a performance like this. Its just unacceptable. Got to be better. Plain and simple.
Kevin Youkilis RBI single in the bottom of the frame gave him a brief lead. But, Lester gave up three walks in his outing one more than his past three starts combined. Lester has had just one shorter outing this season, April 17 against the Rangers in his third start of the year when he lasted just two innings. Other than that outing and Fridays, he had averaged just over 6 23 innings per start.
The Rays big blow came in the third on Matt Joyces grand slam, after a one-out walk to Carlos Pena and a single by B.J. Upton, and a two-out walk to Ben Zobrist. The grand slam was the second Lester has allowed in his career, along with one by Paul Konerko in the fourth inning on Sept. 30, 2010, in Chicago.
It looked like he had pretty good stuff going in, said manager Bobby Valentine. In the first inning he was looking pretty good. The game got away from him a little there with the walk to Pena and then the grand slam to Joyce obviously. The strike zone started eluding him and a couple left-handers that dont hit left-handers all that well got him.
The Rays added back-to-back home runs in the fourth a two-run shot by No. 9 hitter Elliot Johnson and a solo shot by Carlos Pena, who leads all batters with six home runs off Lester.
The seven runs allowed matched a season high for Lester. He had given up just four home runs in nine starts spanning 57 innings entering the game. He had held opponents to one or no home run in each of his last 20 starts since Aug. 5, 2011.
Even more perplexing are Lesters home-away splits.
In four starts at Fenway this season, spanning 21 innings, Lester has a 7.71 ERA, giving up 18 earned runs. He has allowed an opponents' batting average of .310 (27-for-87). With five home runs, two doubles, and a triple, (10 walks and 14 strikeouts) opponents are slugging .506 off him.
On the road, he has an ERA of 3.15, an opponents' batting average of .233, and slugging percentage of .349.
Most of the damage at home has come in two starts: Friday night and April 17 against the Rangers, when he gave up seven runs on eight hits in two innings.
Bad starts Ive had just come at home, he said. Theyre kind of skewed by two starts. Its just, thats baseball. If I had an answer, itd fix it. Just not going well right now for me here.