Lester lays egg; home struggles continue


Lester lays egg; home struggles continue

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.

NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945


NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945

CHICAGO -- Cursed by a Billy Goat, bedeviled by Bartman and crushed by decades of disappointment, the Chicago Cubs are at long last headed back to the World Series.

Kyle Hendricks outpitched Clayton KershawAnthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras homered early and the Cubs won their first pennant since 1945, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 Saturday night in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series.

The drought ended when closer Aroldis Chapman got Yasiel Puig to ground into a double play, setting off a wild celebration inside Wrigley Field, outside the ballpark and all over the city.

Seeking their first crown since 1908, manager Joe Maddon's team opens the World Series at Cleveland on Tuesday night. The Indians haven't won it all since 1948 - Cleveland and Cubs have the two longest title waits in the majors.

"This city deserves it so much," Rizzo said. "We got four more big ones to go, but we're going to enjoy this. We're going to the World Series. I can't even believe that."

All-everything Javier Baez and pitcher Jon Lester shared the NLCS MVP. Baez hit .318, drove in five runs and made several sharp plays at second base. Lester, a former World Series champion in Boston, was 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts against the Dodgers.

Deemed World Series favorites since opening day, the Cubs topped the majors with 103 wins to win the NL Central, then beat the Giants and Dodgers in the playoffs.

The Cubs overcame a 2-1 deficit against the Dodgers and won their 17th pennant. They had not earned a World Series trip since winning a doubleheader opener 4-3 at Pittsburgh on Sept. 29, 1945, to clinch the pennant on the next-to-last day of the season.

The eternal "wait till next year" is over. No more dwelling on a history of failure - the future is now.

"We're too young. We don't care about it," star slugger Kris Bryant said. "We don't look into it. This is a new team, this is a completely different time of our lives. We're enjoying it and our work's just getting started."

Hendricks pitched two-hit ball for 7 1/3 innings. Chapman took over and closed with hitless relief, then threw both arms in the air as he was mobbed by teammates and coaches.

The crowd joined in, chanting and serenading their team.

"Chicago!" shouted popular backup catcher David Ross.

The Cubs shook off back-to-back shutout losses earlier in this series by pounding the Dodgers for 23 runs to win the final three games.

And they were in no way overwhelmed by the moment on Saturday, putting aside previous frustration.

In 1945, the Billy Goat Curse supposedly began when a tavern owner wasn't allowed to bring his goat to Wrigley. In 2003, the Cubs lost the final three games of the NLCS to Florida, punctuated with a Game 6 defeat when fan Steve Bartman deflected a foul ball.

Even as recently as 2012, the Cubs lost 101 times.

This time, no such ill luck.

Bryant had an RBI single and scored in a two-run first. Dexter Fowler added two hits, drove in a run and scored one.

Contreras led off the fourth with a homer. Rizzo continued his resurgence with a solo drive in the fifth.

That was plenty for Hendricks, the major league ERA leader.

Hendricks left to a standing ovation after Josh Reddick singled with one out in the eighth. The only other hit Hendricks allowed was a single by Andrew Toles on the game's first pitch.

Kershaw, dominant in Game 2 shutout, gave up five runs and seven hits before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth. He fell to 4-7 in the postseason.

The Dodgers haven't been to the World Series since winning in 1988.

Pitching on five days' rest, the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner threw 30 pitches in the first. Fowler led off with a double, and Bryant's single had the crowd shaking the 102-year-old ballpark.

They had more to cheer when left fielder Andrew Toles dropped Rizzo's fly, putting runners on second and third, and Ben Zobrist made it 2-0 a sacrifice fly.

The Cubs added a run in the second when Addison Russell doubled to deep left and scored on a two-out single by Fowler.


Maddon benched slumping right fielder Jason Heyward in favor of Albert Almora Jr.

"Kershaw's pitching, so I wanted to get one more right-handed bat in the lineup, and also with Albert I don't feel like we're losing anything on defense," Maddon said. "I know Jason's a Gold Glover, but I think Albert, given an opportunity to play often enough would be considered a Gold Glove-caliber outfielder, too."

Heyward was 2 for 28 in the playoffs - 1 for 16 in the NLCS.


Kerry Wood, wearing a Ron Santo jersey, threw out the first pitch and actor Jim Belushi delivered the "Play Ball!" call before the game. Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder and actor John Cusack were also in attendance. And Bulls great Scottie Pippen led the seventh-inning stretch.