ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Was this the end for Jon Lester?
The longtime ace of the Red Sox held his own in a toe-to-toe of the two most intriguing candidates to be dealt this month, but while Lester left the game with a 3-2 lead in the hands of his teams, it did not last. The Rays erupted for four runs in the seventh against the Red Sox bullpen, claiming a 6-4 victory that left the Sox nine games below .500 and amidst a four-game losing streak.
The siren of “sell, sell, sell” is blaring ever louder for the Sox, and it becomes ever more intriguing to wonder whether a team that appears to have virtually no shot at contention might move numerous assets at the trade deadline — including Lester.
WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX
– Junichi Tazawa had the worst outing of his relief career. The right-hander, entrusted with a 3-2 lead with a runner on first base and one out in the bottom of the seventh inning, endured the following four-batter sequence: walk, RBI single, walk, three-run double. He did recover to retire the final two batters of the seventh, which qualified as an “other than that, Mrs. Lincoln…” sort of postscript. The outing represented the first time that Tazawa had walked multiple batters in a relief outing, and the first time since September 2009 that Tazawa had been charged with as many as three runs in a game (and the first time he’d given up such a total in fewer than three innings of work).
– The Red Sox endured costly sloppiness afield. There were three misplays.
The first two were not costly. Jonny Gomes botched a catchable ball and turned it into a double. Xander Bogaerts, meanwhile, ranged to his left to attempt a bare-handed play of a ball hit right at Brock Holt. Bogaerts couldn’t get the handle on it, thus permitting Ben Zobrist to get an infield single on a routine grounder — a play that suggested that Bogaerts is still trying to figure out his clock at third base.
But in the bottom of the seventh, Jonny Gomes botched a single in shallow center, permitting Cole Figueroa to score from second without a throw. Had Gomes fielded the ball cleanrly, there’s a good chance Figueroa would have either encountered a close play at the plate or been held.
– Mike Napoli was 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts against Price.
WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX
– Lester was nearly flawless in his six innings of work, making just one terrible mistake — a 2-0 fastball over the plate that Desmond Jennings deposited into the seats in left-center — but otherwise featuring a dominant fastball-cutter-changeup mix. In a heavily scouted affair, Lester did little to dissuade the view that he could be a difference-maker to teams looking to separate themselves from the contending pack.
Lester permitted six hits (four singles, a “double” that clanged off the glove of a sliding Jonny Gomes and the Jennings homer), walked one and punched out seven while showing mastery of both sides of the plate with his full mix for most of the night. The left-hander now owns a 2.52 ERA with 9.4 strikeouts and 2.0 walks per nine.
– David Ortiz exacted a measure of revenge from recent nemesis David Price, lining an RBI single to center against the Rays ace to tie the game, 2-2, in the top of the sixth. Ortiz now has 12 hits (tied for fourth most by any left-handed hitter against Price) and 8 RBIs (tied for second most) against the lefty, with a career line of .255/.340/.447 against him.
– Shane Victorino underscored how significant his loss for much of the season has been to the Sox by delivering a game-changing offensive performance. He gave the Red Sox an early 1-0 lead by going deep against Rays starter Price, his first homer since May 21. He followed that up with a go-ahead, two-out RBI single to center. Victorino is now hitting .351/.359/.459 against lefties this year.
– Dustin Pedroia sparked what was, at the time, a go-ahead two-run rally in the sixth inning by crushing a leadoff double to left-center. It was his first extra-base hit since July 11. To that point, he’d been just 2-for-26 (.077) in the second half with two singles. Pedroia would later single against Price, giving him his first multi-hit game of the second half.