Saturday, May 9, 2009

Snakebit Lester can't catch a break

Jon Lester made exactly one pitch all day he wishes he could take back.

"The one ball that should have been hit out was the first cutter I threw (to Evan Longoria)," Lester said in his postgame session with the media. "It was up, and he fouled it off. Really, after that, I executed pitches pretty well, I thought."

That was the second pitch of Longoria's first at-bat.

Six pitches later, Longoria went down to get a 94-mile-an-hour fastball at the knees and away and hit it on a straight line to center field for a two-run home run.

The pitch was crushed -- but it wasn't a pitch Lester would take back.

"Longoria goes down and gets a ball and hits it out," he said. "It's frustrating, but he put a good swing on it. ... He was out on his front foot a little bit and reaching, but he's a strong kid. ... I was just really surprised that that ball did go out. I figured he hit it well, but I didn't think as well as he did."

Said manager Terry Francona, "I thought it had some sink to it. (Longoria) stayed through that ball really well. Off the bat, I'm thinking, 'Boy, Jacoby (Ellsbury) is going to catch up with this. Not only is that not the case, but it's in the seats. I don't think it was a bad pitch, either. ... He stayed through that ball unlike too many people. I've seen a lot of guys roll that ball over, and you get a nice ground ball."

But you don't finish with a line that looks like Lester's looks like -- 4 1/3 IP, 10 H, 8 ER -- when you give up one good swing to one outstanding hitter. It takes a lot more than that.

For Lester, though, it was just that kind of day. He allowed exactly one hard-hit ball in the fifth inning -- the leadoff single that Akinori Iwamura hit through the box -- and then induced four routine ground balls and a routine fly ball to left field to go along with an attempted sacrifice bunt. The result? Seven hits and six earned runs.

A synopsis of the damage:

* Dioner Navarro hit a bouncing ground ball through the left side that just got under the glove of shortstop Julio Lugo. Iwamura moved up to second.

* B.J. Upton laid down a bunt toward the third-base side. Lester might have been a little too deliberate in fielding it and throwing it. Everyone was safe. Bases loaded.

* Carl Crawford hit a bouncing ground ball that just got past Lugo and into right field. Iwamura scored. Bases still loaded.

* Evan Longoria got under a 95-mile-an-hour fastball in on the hands and lofted it to left field -- where it would have been an easy out in any other ballpark. Fenway Park, though, isn't just any other ballpark, and it very nearly drifted over the Green Monster for a grand slam. It did, however, scrape off the ball for a two-run double. Navarro and Upton both scored.

("I went back and looked at that pitch, and that pitch really wasn't as bad as it seemed," Lester said. "It was in, off the plate, and he hit it off the wall.")

* Carlos Pena struck out on a curveball in the dirt to become Lester's sixth strikeout victim of the afternoon.

* Pat Burrell hit another bouncing ground ball through the left side that neither Lugo nor third baseman Mike Lowell could reach. Crawford and Longoria scored.

* Jason Bartlett hit yet another bouncing ground ball between Lugo and Lowell for yet another base hit.

At that point, Francona felt he had no choice but to go out and get Lester. Reliever Hunter Jones allowed a single to Gabe Kapler -- the fifth ground ball through that same hole that inning -- before Iwamura, up for the second time in the inning, hit a ground ball that a Red Sox infielder could corral. But since it's next to impossible to double up Iwamura, Burrell scored from third.

"A lot of those balls, off the bat, I thought were outs," Lester said. "It just seems like our guys are playing one step the wrong way -- and I'm not saying they're in the wrong position, but it just seems like that's the way things are going for me right now. ...

"I threw some good pitches, and they beat them into the ground just out of the reach of guys. That's baseball. That happens. Obviously, it's frustrating. I'd like have those balls hit five or six feet the other way, either direction, and they're outs or double plays or whatever."

Lester now has a 2-3 record and a 6.31 ERA in seven starts -- but he still feels like he's somehow on the right track.

"I don't really think there's a whole lot of adjustments that need to be done," he said, the tone of his voice making it sound like he was trying to convince himself as much as the reporters sitting in front of him. "I know I keep saying that, and I know it's probably getting old. But I feel like I'm throwing the ball pretty well, and right now, balls aren't going at people."

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