Closing Time: Jon Lester on top of his game in Red Sox' win over Rays

Rob Bradford
July 23, 2013 - 6:18 pm

A little extra rest evidently went a long way for Jon Lester. Lester, who was afforded two more days of rest following the All-Star break, showed good life on his pitches throughout Tuesday night, turning in a start reminiscent of his early season performances. The 6 2/3-inning outing, in which the lefty struck out eight and allowed just two runs, paved the way for a 6-2 Red Sox win over the Rays at Fenway Park. The left-hander showed an explosive fastball out of the chute. He punched out both leadoff man Desmond Jennings (93 mph) and Evan Longoria (95 mph) on fastballs in the first inning and built from there. "Just the way Jonny came out of the bullpen tonight, he was strong," said manager John Farrell. "It seems like the added rest did him some good. A lot of strikes. Power to his fastball for the full six-plus innings of work tonight. It was just Tampa Bay's third loss in its last 21 games, and pushed the Red Sox lead in the American League back to 1½ games. Lester, who was coming off a solid outing (6 1/3 innings, 3 runs) in Oakland, appeared in control for most of the night. The starter's only miscues came via a pair of solo home runs, from Wil Myers and Evan Longoria. The Red Sox offense did just enough against Tampa Bay starter Roberto Hernandez, who was forced to throw 95 pitches over just five innings. Here is what went right (and wrong) in the Red Sox' win. WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX -- Mike Carp singled in Mike Napoli in the second inning to knot the game at 1-1. Napoli, who was one of three Red Sox (joining David Ortiz and Jarrod Saltalamacchia) with a pair of hits, also scored the Sox' fourth run when he came in on Stephen Drew's single in the eighth inning. Carp is 4-for-7 since the All-Star break. -- Shane Victorino helped manufacture the Red Sox' second run thanks to some heads-up baserunning. With Ortiz batting with one out in the third inning, Dustin Pedroia took off on a steal attempt of second. Pedroia not only was safe on the play, but Victorino took advantage of the ball skipping away from shortstop Yunel Escobar on the throw down by catcher Jose Molina by sprinting home uncontested. Victorino had originally reached base via a leadoff double. -- The Sox extended their lead to two runs thanks to Pedroia's fifth-inning sacrifice fly, scoring Daniel Nava. On the day the second baseman agreed to a seven-year, $100 million contract extension, he was hit by a pitch and made a key defensive play in the eighth inning (sliding over to scoop up Myers' grounder up the middle). -- The Red Sox set-up relievers did a stellar job. Matt Thornton came on for Lester with one out in the seventh and the potential game-tying run at second base. The newly acquired southpaw retired the only batter he faced, Sean Rodriguez, on a slow grounder to third base. Junichi Tazawa then came on and struck out the first three batters he faced before getting Myers on the groundout. Koji Uehara pitched a perfect ninth to close things out in the non-save situation, striking out a pair. -- The Sox were able to break it open in the eighth, starting with Drew's RBI single. It was the shortstop's first hit since coming off the 15-day disabled list. The hosts added two more runs on Jose Iglesias' high chopper over the head of Longoria at third, leading to a run-scoring throwing error by Escobar. It was the shortstop's first error in 54 games. WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX -- Myers seemed to be on Lester all night. The rookie not only hit his fifth big league homer, clearing the left-field wall, but also rifled a double to left before hitting a sharp liner right at Carp in left field. The other Rays hitter to go deep, Longoria, now has three homers in his last five games. -- Ortiz was gunned down trying to go from first to third in the second on Napoli's hard single into the left-field corner.