By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs
Whenever the baseball calendar flips over to August and the Red Sox are pitted against the Yankees, its an automatic fact of AL East life that the best players on either side will need to elevate their games.
That needs to be the case in a three-game series between the ancient baseball rivals with first place on the line, and that simply wasnt the case in Friday nights opening act.
Prized left-hander Jon Lester suddenly misplaced the strike zone after five dominant innings against the dangerous Yankees lineup, and slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez pulled an 0-for-4 at the plate that snapped a 14-game hitting streak for the middle-of-the-order slugger.
Both of their baseball supermen blinked against Major League Baseballs version of the Legion of Doom, and it caused the Sox to come up just a smidgen short. When Lester and Gonzalez dont roll out playing high level baseball against a team like the Yanks, the chances of winning drop to something comfortably between unreasonable and unlikely. Thats exactly what happened in a 3-2 loss to New York at Fenway Park Friday night, and its why the Sox were lamenting a narrow defeat dotted with only a couple of legit turning points.
We thought we did a good job getting Bartolo Colon out of there, but we just couldnt get to their bullpen, said Dustin Pedroia. Weve got to come out and swing the bats a little bit better.
The game actually hinged on Gonzalez fanning to end the bottom of the fifth inning with the bases loaded and two outs after Bostons offense forced Bartolo Colon to the showers after only 4 23 innings. Yankees manager Joe Girardi called on lefty Boone Logan, and the southpaw reliever overwhelmed Bostons offensive linchpin in the pivotal at bat.
Its actually been a little bit of a struggle for Gonzalez against the Yankees this season with a .211 batting average and nine strikeouts in 38 at bats against the Bronx Bombers a set of numbers that have left him on the periphery of the impassioned hardball rivalry that he couldnt wait to be a part of heading into the season.
I just wasnt able to hold back, lamented Gonzalez about the pitch from Logan that retired the first baseman on a check swing strike three.
The lengthy-but-fruitless bottom of the fifth inning caused Lester to gather a little rust in the Sox dugout, and he looked little like the dominant lefty that fanned seven Yankees through the first five innings while working both sides of the plate like a Picasso.
In the sixth inning all the artistry turned ugly, and Lester walked No. 9 hitter Eduardo Nunez to start the inning. He couldnt recover fast enough once things got rolling for the Yankees offense and he coughed up three runs before finally stopping the bleeding.
The final numbers three runs allowed and seven strikeouts in six innings of work were more than passable, but Lester couldnt summon greatness when he needed to.
The strapping lefty prides himself on being a stopper for the Sox, and was his own worst critic when he couldnt find a way to prevent a Nick Swisher double down the left field line that ultimately plated the game-winning run. The lefty very nearly escaped a bases loaded, nobody out jam, but thats something that doesnt happen every often against a good offensive lineup like the Yankees.
Lester is also 2-1 with a 5.00 ERA in three starts against the Yankees this season, and will need to be better going forward against Bostons hated rivals if they harbor serious hopes for the AL East.
It seemed like for five innings we dictated both sides of the plate, and in the sixth inning they did, said Lester. You cant give these guys free bases. I need to do a better job of once we get those two outs of buckling down and getting that third out.
The Sox hurler liked the pitches he threw to Curtis Granderson and Swisher that really did the necessary damage for New York, but he still needs to discover some way to simply make that one pitch during winninglosing time.
I just have to do a better job. You tip your hat to Swisher because he hit a pretty good pitch, but I just have to do a better job of getting him out one way or another, said Lester. I have to get the out, minimize the damage to two runs and maybe thats the difference in the game.
Both Lester and Gonzalez are going to need to start getting better immediately if the Sox hope to cool down the red-hot Yankees, and finish strong in August and September before the real season begins.