As they head into August in a battle for the American League East, pitching is their biggest question mark. They’ve lost two closers to injuries and their best starter, Clay Buchholz, hasn’t pitched since June 8. The situation puts even more pressure on Lester, the man on the mound last night.

Lester has been as inconsistent as New England weather this season, and though he hit a few bumps in last night’s 6-2 win against the Tampa Bay Rays, his performance was encouraging. The 29-year-old pitched into the seventh inning, allowing two runs on seven hits with no walks and eight strikeouts for his ninth win of the season. The Sox evened this four-game series against the Rays at 1-1 and stretched their lead in the AL East back to 11⁄2 games.

“Where we are in the standings, where they are, this was a big game for us tonight,” manager John Farrell said. “For him to come out and respond and take control of the game as he did, very encouraging.”
Lester looked sharp from the get-go. In the first, he sat Evan Longoria down with a devastating set of pitches, looping a 75-mph curve over the outside edge for strike two and catching the slugging third baseman looking with a 95-mph fastball in the same spot.
That sudden increase or drop in speed is enough to make any batter’s head spin, and at times last night, the Rays couldn’t see straight.
“I feel like I’ve made improvements. I’ve made strides in the right direction,” said Lester (9-6). “Whether it be adjustments or . . . executing pitches, I just have to keep pounding those things away.”
A 6-foot-4 lefty with five pitches at varying speeds, Lester should be solidified as a top-of-the-rotation starter. But the results haven’t always been there. Since going 6-0 with a 2.72 ERA to start the season, he came into last night’s game 2-6 with a 6.27 ERA since May 20.

And his Jekyll and Hyde tendency was seen in spurts last night. After sitting Longoria down as part of a 1-2-3 first (his only clean inning), Lester gave up a leadoff homer to Wil Myers to start the second and another leadoff homer, to Longoria, in the sixth.
But the Sox offense picked up Lester when needed. Mike Carp drove in Mike Napoli to even the score in the second. In the third, the Sox continued to get to starter Roberto Hernandez when Shane Victorino scored on a double steal with Dustin Pedroia for a 2-1 lead. Pedroia added to the advantage in the fifth, knocking in Daniel Nava with a sacrifice fly to make it 3-1.