Where was this in the first half from Lester, Gonzo?

Where was this in the first half from Lester, Gonzo?
August 19, 2012, 1:14 am
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NEW YORK -- This is how the Red Sox hoped it would go back in April, when hopes were high and six months of baseball were still laid out in front of them:

Jon Lester would pitch well and win big games and Adrian Gonzalez would provide extra-base hits and produce the way he did in the first half of 2011.

And so it was on Saturday, when Lester limited the powerful Yankee lineup to a single run over seven innings and Gonzalez smacked a two-run homer in the top of the first.

When someone asked Bobby Valentine if this is what he thought he had from two key performers earlier in the year, Valentine said: "We still have it. We just haven't used it as often. We saved it up.''

If the Red Sox hadn't score again -- they did, with a Nick Punto double in the fifth and, with the aid of a wild pitch, again in the eighth -- it would have been enough for Lester, who improved to 7-10.

It was Lester's second consecutive strong start, coming on the heels of a six-inning, one-run performance last Sunday in Cleveland. In point of fact, it was his fifth straight decent start, part of a second-half turnaround that began last month when the Sox last visited the Bronx.

Over the last five starts, Lester's ERA is 3.48, more in keeping with what the lefthander's career ERA was (3.53) at the start of this season.

Gonzalez, too, has had a second-half renaissance. He leads all American Leaguers in RBI in August with 22 and has been named AL Player of the Week twice since the All-Star break. Since June 23, he has the best batting average in the American League, with a .380 batting average.

Most telling, perhaps, is his slugging percentage, which was an anemic .416 before the All-Star break, but is a smoldering .618 since the start of the second half of the season.

In the team's first 89 games, Gonzalez had just six homers; in the last 32, he has eight. And thanks to his recent surge, he now ranks fifth in the A.L. in RBI with 84.

Here's the problem, however: while both Lester and Gonzalez have turned their individual seasons around in recent weeks, it's too late to help the Red Sox turn theirs.

They were needed in the first half, when injuries hit and the club sputtered.

But it wasn't until mid-June that Lester won his fourth game of the year and it wasn't until the last month that Gonzalez began doing damage at the plate.

Neither Lester nor Gonzalez can provide much in the way of explanation for their recent spurts. Manager Bobby Valentine believes that Lester is throwing his curveball harder and is benefiting from better luck, continually citing Lester's abnormally high BABIP (batting average with balls in play) as evidence of the breaks that have gone against him.

Lester, never one for self-analysis, shrugs off the improvements to "better execution'' of pitches and other generalities.

"Results are all that matter,'' he said.

For much of the year, Gonzalez has seemed almost indifferent to his numbers, emphasizing that, by the end of the year, he'll have an on-base percentage of .400 or so, a slugging percentage in the neighborhood of .500and an OPS of .900.

And sure enough, he's getting there. His OBP is at .352 and his slugging is up to .477. By the end of the year, he may well reach his goal.

But the Red Sox won't. And the first-half drop-offs by Lester and Gonzalez are, let's face it, partly to blame.