BOSTON There was not much more Jon Lester could do Tuesday night -- except get a win.
Despite holding the Rays to three runs on seven hits over seven innings, with two walks and eight strikeouts, Lester and the Red Sox fell to the Rays, 3-2. Their record fell to 2-9, the worst in baseball.
Lester has been as much a hard-luck loser as the Sox have seen this season. It was his second straight quality start -- he shut out the Indians over seven innings in Cleveland on Thursday -- but he still doesn't have a win to show for it.
In this game Lester was matched against David Price, Tampa Bays ace and another of the American Leagues elite left-handers. Price (1-2) earned his first win of the season.
After Daisuke Matsuzakas disastrous outing Monday night, which lasted just two innings and taxed the bullpen, Lester gave manager Terry Francona exactly what was expected of him.
He knows what were up against tonight, Francona said. Were not knocking the ball all over the ballpark. They got one of the best lefties in the league, too. And we just didnt do enough.
In the first inning, Lester got Sam Fuld to ground out to Marco Scutaro at shortstop, before striking out Johnny Damon and B.J. Upton to end the inning. Lester struck out Damon to end the third inning, and then struck out Tampa Bays three, four and five hitters Upton, Felipe Lopez, and Sean Rodriquez in the fourth. From the third to the fourth, five of the six outs were on strikeouts.
But Lester faltered in the fifth. After retiring the first batter, he surrendered a single on an 0-and-2 pitch to Kelly Shoppach. Dan Johnson and Elliott Johnson followed with singles of their own, loading the bases and bringing Sam Fuld to the plate.
Fuld hit a swinging bunt to Adrian Gonzalez, charging from first. Gonzalez appeared to have just a bit of trouble getting the ball out of his glove before he threw home and Shoppach slid in safely, tying the score and keeping the bases loaded.
Damon then singled to center, scoring both Johnsons and putting Tampa Bay in front, 3-1. It was all the Rays would need.
Were facing one of the better guys in the league tonight, just like they were, said Francona. I dont think you ever go into a game against a guy like Price and think youre going to knock him around the ballpark.
I thought Lester was every bit as good. They bunched all their hits right about in a row. They got a swinging bunt. The 0-2 pitch to Shoppach to start it off, Lester left it out over the plate and Shoppach served a ball into left. Then a couple balls were hit, Johnnys ball up the middle . . . But I thought Lester was really good.
Jason Varitek, who caught Lester, was just as impressed.
I thought he did well, Varitek said. He kept us in the game. That inning could have gotten further away. He made pitches to keep it at 3-1 . . .
"After that, Lester battled and stayed and didn't let it get away from him.
Wins for Lester -- and the team -- have been hard to come by this season.
We dont have a whole lot of wins ourselves and its not about Jon, Varitek said. Its about us. Were playing better and we just got to push and find a way to win a game.
Its not a whole lot of fun for anyone. But everyones doing their work, going about their business right. And if we continue to throw a quality start like that, were going to win a lot of games.
Lester accepted his tough luck.
Four singles beat me, or whatever it was, five singles, he said. But you know what? Ill take that every start, if youre going to beat me with singles, and then tip my hat. The only pitch Id want back in that inning is the ball I threw to Damon. Just right side of the plate, just up a little bit, he was able to put a good swing on it. But I dont really know what else to say about it.
The Sox have been at a loss -- for words and games -- for much of the season. With the combination of the Red Sox loss, the Rays win, and Houstons win, the Sox now have the worst record in baseball.
I think its a combination of everything on every night, Lester said. I thought we played really good tonight. If our record wasnt what it is right now I dont think really too many guys would be worried about tonight. But, obviously, we know what were up against right now.
"But we just got to keep grinding. Everybody in that clubhouse is going to show up every day. Its the same deal every night we talk to yall. Its the same answers and its clich-y, but its the truth. We show up every day. Everybodyd in that clubhouse cares. Everybody wants to play hard. Everybody wants to do good. Were trying. Itll come. Its obviously not what we wanted right now but its too much talent in that clubhouse to be where we're at right now.
Asked what would help right his team, Lester replied:
We need a night like Tampa Bay had Monday night when the Rays scored 16 runs on 20 hits. We need a night where we show up and we just pound the baseball and we do everything right. I think also a night where . . . we come from behind and get a win. That, I think, would get us going. Were just not putting everything together.
Maureen Mullen is on Twitter athttp:twitter.commaureenamullen