Lester's gem just what the Red Sox ordered

Lester's gem just what the Red Sox ordered
May 15, 2012, 4:08 am
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BOSTON -- It was a night almost exactly like this one: A Monday, cloudy, 57 degrees.

The difference: That one was almost exactly four years ago, May, 19, 2008. Jon Lester pitched a no-hitter against the Royals at Fenway Park.

On this night, Lester had a perfect game with two outs in the fourth inning against the Mariners at Fenway. But Ichiro Suzuki made sure Lester would not be adding to his no-hit resume. Not on this night, anyway.

Suzuki took the fourth pitch of the at-bat from Lester and lined a sharp groundball right back at the left-hander. Lesters glove deflected the ball, with Ichiro reaching safely, erasing the no-hitter and perfect game. In the ninth, Ichiro erased the shutout, scoring the Mariners lone run.

But, the Mariners could do little to prevent Lester from a complete-game win, as he scattered eight Seattle hits, allowing no walks with six strikeouts.The Red Sox beat the Mariners, 6-1, for their fourth straight win, as Lester improved to 2-3 with a 3.71 ERA.

He went out and he looked like he had a mission to accomplish and he accomplished it, said manager Bobby Valentine. He was throwing all of his pitches early in the game, throwing them all for strikes, had a very confident look about himself and just for you younger reporters out there, thats called a complete game--when a starter starts and then he finishes it.

Perhaps, the Mariners would have been ripe for the pickings of a no-hitter. They entered the game batting just .235 as a team, better than only Oaklands .218 in the American League.

His cutter was really good, said Seattle lead-off hitter Dustin Ackley, who went 1-for-4 with a strikeout. That thing looked like his fastball and it just breaks off at the last minute. When you have a pitch like that, youre going to miss barrels a lot.

Lester threw a good ballgame, said Mariners manager Eric Wedge. We hit some balls hard for outs and a couple of our guys had some good at-bats tonight, but nothing with really any damage behind it.

Lester was staked to a two-run lead after the first. In the fourth, a two-run homer from Daniel Nava and solo shot by Kelly Shoppach padded the lead. Marlon Byrds sacrifice fly in the eighth scored Will Middlebrooks for the Sox final run.

Lester kept the Mariners off the scoreboard until the ninth. Suzuki led off with a single, taking third on Justin Smoaks one-out double. Kyle Seagers groundout to Dustin Pedroia scored Suzuki for Seattles only run.

After the game, Lester acknowledged he was thinking about a no-hitter. Then again, he usually does, he said.

I think thats everybodys goal when they go out there, to throw a no-hitter, perfect game, he said. Just ended up giving up a base hit a little later than normal. I just was able to keep the ball down. its obviously in the back of your mind but I dont think it really becomes significant until the sixth, seventh inning. Thats when youre cutting those outs down and you might have a chance.

It was Lesters eighth career complete game, second this season. The other was an eight-inning loss in Toronto on April 11. It was his first nine-inning complete game since June 27, 2010, at San Francisco, and first at Fenway for any Sox pitcher since Lesters nine-inning win over the Twins on May 20, 2010.

Suzuki was the only baserunner Lester allowed through the first five innings. He did not allow a ball out of the infield until Kyle Seagers flyout to right for the second out of the fifth.

He was very aggressive tonight early in counts, said Shoppach. We talked about that before the game, we talked about that his last few starts, how much more efficient he could be.

Lesters gem gives the Sox four consecutive quality starts for the first this season. Josh Beckett could complete the cycle in the two-game series finale Tuesday afternoon.

Were building a foundation, a base ofconfidence, confidence in each other and confidence in the group, Valentine said. Jons a big part of the group and when hes doing well we feel good about ourself. At least I know I do and I know that the hitters do, too.

At 16-19, though, the Sox are still in the cellar of the American League East. If they are to dig their way out, the starting pitchers must lead the way with the proverbial shovels.

I said last week we got to get over the hump, Shoppach said. The starters got to start competing against one another, try to outdo the next guy and momentum will build. Im a firm believer that this game starts with the guys on the mound, which is why I care so much about whats going on out on the mound because I truly believe thats the most important part of the game.

It wasnt a perfect game, or a no-hitter. It wasnt even a shutout. But it was a well-pitched game, and it was a win.

Lester did his part. Now the shovel has been passed. Its up to Josh Beckett to pick it up.