To beat the best, the Red Sox are going to need Jon Lester at his best.

Last night, he was nowhere near great, and the Red Sox, despite some late bad blood with the visiting Rays, could not overcome any adversity.

Just when it appeared the Red Sox were starting to turn a corner on their season, Lester yanked them back around the bend last night with his second-worst start of the season.

Just as he went only two innings and gave up seven runs here against the Rangers in April, he threw up another stinker in last night's 7-4 loss to the Rays.

Lester lasted just four innings and gave up all seven runs, all of them coming on three home runs: a grand slam, a two-run shot, and a solo shot.

"Frustrating" said Lester about his performance, which dropped the Red Sox' record to 22-23. "We worked so hard to get back to .500, playing good baseball, and I come out and have a performance like this. It's unacceptable. I've got to be better. Plain and simple."

The scoring was all over by the sixth inning, but in the top of the ninth, the teams staged a bench-clearing scrum that involved more spit and smack talk than punches and pandemonium.