The Red Sox only hit against Rays starter James Shield in one inning Tuesday afternoon at Fenway, but sometimes one inning is all it takes.
Jacoby Ellsbury‘s three-run home run capped a three-hit third inning, and Jon Lester struck out eight in seven innings to pick up his 12th win. The Red Sox beat the Rays 3-1 in Game 1 of a doubleheader. With the win, Boston now leads New York by a half-game in the AL East.
Lester Pitches Better and Better Across Game
Two of Tampa Bay’s three hits off Lester Tuesday came in the first inning, and all came on high cutters to Rays batting righty.
Left fielder Desmond Jennings led off the game with a double to left, then stole third before scoring on a one-out ground out to third by Evan Longoria to put the Rays up 1-0 in the first. DH Ben Zobrist followed it up with a double to center, but a ground out stranded him.
Lester continued to struggle early in the second, hitting second baseman Sean Rodriguez and walking catcher Kelly Shoppach on four pitches with one out. Perhaps the walk shook off whatever rust Lester was pitching through, because after that Lester absolutely dominated, retiring the next two to preserve the one-run deficit.
Lester sailed through the next three innings, retiring all nine batters he faced. Given a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the third, he struck out the side swinging in the fourth, then retired the side 1-2-3 on six pitches in the fifth. The Rays did not put another runner on until Longoria singled with one out in the sixth, breaking up a string of 12 consecutively retired Rays. Lester responded to the single with two more strikeouts to end the sixth.
Lester’s strong middle innings allowed him to go a full seven innings (the last of which also went 1-2-3) despite needing over 50 pitches to get through the first three. He finished the game giving up just the one earned run on three hits, a walk, seven strikeouts and a hit batter. He earned his 12th win of the season, picked up his fifth day-game win (now 5-0, 1.55 ERA) and lowered his ERA to 3.22.
Lester’s control wasn’t perfect: he threw just 65 of his 113 pitches (57.5 percent) for strikes, and just nine first-pitch strikes to 26 batters. Nor was his power quite what it can be: Rays hitters fouled off 25 pitches to just 11 swings-and-misses.
Lester’s domination Tuesday, rather, was aided by the Rays always making easy outs when they put the ball in play. Of the 13 non-strike outs Lester recorded, nine were ground balls that Red Sox infielders handled with little difficulty. Of the remaining four, two were lazy fly balls and one was a muffed-bunt popup. Only Shoppach’s foul-out to end the seventh required any kind of defensive display, and that was only because Jarrod Saltalamacchia almost over-ran it.
Daniel Bard struck out two in a perfect eighth, and Jonathan Papelbon pitched a 10-pitch perfect ninth for his 28th save, aided by a diving grab by Dustin Pedroia on a B.J. Upton liner up the middle to end the game.
Shields Dominates Red Sox in Every Inning but the One that Mattered
Boston hitters entered Tuesday’s game having already combined for 12 career home runs off Shields, so their free-swinging approach to him early in the game made sense. Unfortunately, it didn’t produce any results, as the Red Sox went 1-2-3 in both the first and second innings, flying out three times in the first.
Shields stopped relying on the fastball in the third, instead going to more change-ups. The Red Sox responded by switching from power to contact hitting, and the switch paid off. Josh Reddick led off the bottom of the third with a single to left, then took second two batters later on a single up the middle by Mike Aviles.
Shields next faced Ellsbury, getting the count to 1-1 before leaving another change-up over the middle of the plate. Ellsbury crushed it beyond the Tampa Bay bullpen in right-center for the 3-1 lead and Ellsbury’s 21st home run of the season.
Shields bore down after the home run however, and did not allow another hit in the game. Only Kevin Youkilis even reached base after that: on a leadoff walk in the fourth. Shields went the full eight innings in his 10th loss of the season and 8th career loss at Fenway (1-8, 6.99 ERA). He allowed three runs on three hits, a walk and six strikeouts.