David Ortiz didn’t feel the urge to smash any dugout phones yesterday not after going 4-for-4 with a two-run homer. But even if he had the Red Sox would’ve been just fine.
Call the bullpen? There wasn’t much need. Not with the way Jon Lester pitched.
In the rubber match of a three-game series against the Baltimore Orioles Lester was aces tossing seven scoreless innings before finally yielding to the bullpen in a 5-0 victory at Camden Yards. Coupled with the Tampa Bay Rays’ loss to the Yankees in New York the Red Sox inched back in first place by a half-game and extended their lead over the third-place Orioles to five with nine head-to-head matchups still remaining — all in the season’s final five weeks.
“It’s good man” Ortiz said. “(The Orioles) play really well against us. Since 2011 they’ve been making our lives impossible here. They have a group of young talented players. Through the years they’re learning. That’s a good team right now.”
Much will be made of Ortiz’ response one day after pummeling a dugout phone with his bat out of frustration over umpire Tim Timmons’ strike zone. He stirred the Sox’ 10-hit barrage by homering to open a 3-0 lead in the third inning against Orioles starter Jason Hammel — and for good measure he put a finger to his lips as he crossed home plate a shush to fans who booed him all day.
The bigger picture though involved Lester who finally appears to be back on track after an eight-start swoon in which he raised questions about his continued viability as a front-of-the-rotation starter. Facing the Orioles’ power-packed lineup he yielded four hits and two walks while striking out eight. He allowed fewer than three runs for the third time in his last five starts.
Lester accomplished all of that by relying primarily on his fastball rather than his signature cutter. Of his 99 pitches almost two-thirds were fastballs.
“It was working” Lester said simply. “(Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia) liked where my heater was. I was able to move it around and keep it down and keep these guys in the ballpark.”
At one point Lester retired 11 consecutive batters. He escaped two-out jams in the fourth and fifth innings then got out of a two-on none-out mess in the sixth when the Red Sox were leading by only three runs. And when he needed to make a big pitch to kill that rally he threw a full-count changeup to get a double play from J.J. Hardy.
But Lester’s fastball-dominant pitch mix indicates how strong he’s feeling lately. The Red Sox gave him a nine-day respite following his final start before the All-Star break prompting conspiracy theorists to wonder if he was injured. If anything he appears rejuvenated with more life on a fastball that ranged yesterday from 92-95 mph.