By Maureen Mullen
CSNNE.com Follow @maureenamullen
BOSTON With the score tied, one out, and a runner on first base in the sixth inning Monday night against the Royals, Jon Lester walked off the mound to a standing ovation. He would not get a decision or a quality start just the seventh time in his 19 starts he has failed to do so this season. But the Fenway Park crowd was happy to see the left-hander back on the mound for the first time since July 5.
In that game, against the Blue Jays at Fenway, Lester walked off the mound after four no-hit innings. But a left latissimus strain had sidelined him until Monday night.
By the time the Sox lost to the Royals, 3-1, after 14 innings at 1:59 a.m., Lesters outing had been long done. He went 5 13 innings against the Royals, giving up one run on seven hits and two walks with six strikeouts. He did not issue his first walk until the fifth inning, when Alcides Escobar led off with a five-pitch pass.
Before the game manager Terry Francona said Lester would be limited to 80-85 pitches. But Lester threw 89 pitches (55 for strikes, for a 62 percent strike rate), departing after giving up a two hits and a walk to lead off the sixth.
The Sox spotted Lester a slim one-run lead in the second, when Carl Crawford scored on Josh Reddicks double. Lester kept Kansas City off the scoreboard until the sixth.
Melky Cabrera, who is now 9-for-21 (.429, after going 2-for-3 Monday) against Lester, led off the inning with single to left and scored on Billy Butlers double to left. Butler was thrown out trying to third on the throw. After Eric Hosmer walked, Lester was done.
I thought he was very good, said Francona. That was very encouraging. He stayed with all his pitches. It was very good to see.
The lone run snapped a season-long 16-inning scoreless streak for Lester, including consecutive scoreless outings on June 30 at Philadelphia, when he went seven innings without allowing a run, and July 5 against Toronto. He has just one longer streak in his career, when he went 17 innings without allowing a run from Sept. 1 Sept. 13, 2009.
Lester, although satisfied with his outing, could feel the effects of the down time.
I felt good, he said. But I felt like I hadnt pitched in two weeks. As far as the lat goes, felt no pain, felt normal.
I was tired. You cant simulate a big league baseball game. I felt good for the first 4 , 5 innings. A little tired at the end. Build off this one. I should be fine for my next start.
Lester is 10-4 with a 3.23 ERA this season. He has had tremendous success against the Royals, going 4-1 with a 1.28 ERA in six career starts against. At Fenway Park, he is 4-0 with a 0.48 ERA against Kansas City, including his no-hitter on May 19, 2008. IN five of his six career outings, he has allowed one or no run. He has allowed one or no run in five straight games at Fenway, the second-longest streak by a Sox starter behind Roger Clemens, who went six starts from April 21, 1987 Aug. 16, 1991.
Lester has the best ERA against the Royals among pitchers with at least five starts since 2006, and second-best all-time behind Chad Ogeas 1.08.
Despite the loss, his record remains intact against the Royals. But this one was hard to take.
It stinks, he said. Wait around 2 hours for a five-hour baseball game. These ones arent fun.
Maureen Mullen is on Twitter at http:twitter.commaureenamullen.