DETROIT -- For Jon Lester, there was no comparison between his Opening Day starts, except for the outcome.
Last season in Texas, Lester gave up three home runs in the first four innings -- the last a three-run blast by Mike Napoli -- and then saw his teammates rally to tie the score, only to have the bullpen give it up. He came away with a no-decision, the team with a loss.
On Thursday afternoon in Detroit, Lester held the Tigers scoreless through the first six innings with the help of three double plays, then watched as his teammates rallied to tie the score, only to have the bullpen give up the deciding run in the bottom of the ninth.
Another no-decision for Lester, another loss for the Red Sox.
The satisfaction, then, was measured. Lester took some comfort in knowing that he kept the game close against Justin Verlander, the defending AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner. The Red Sox hadn’t faced a reigning MVP in their opener since 1914; that one didn’t go so well, either. They were shut out by Walter Johnson, the future Hall of Famer, by a 3-0 score.
On Thursday, Verlander looked like a modern-day version of the “Big Train,” allowing the Sox just two hits: an opposite-field double by David Ortiz in the second and a fifth-inning single by Ryan Sweeney. With the help of a curveball that had no mercy in its stitching -- a pitch that resulted in freeze-frame whiffs of four Sox hitters caught looking -- Verlander held the Red Sox scoreless through the first eight innings.
Lester was not quite as dominating -- the Tigers put at least one runner on base in all seven innings he pitched -- but he was plenty good enough. The left-hander held the Tigers hitless in 13 at-bats with runners on until Alex Avila sliced an opposite-field double -- after Jhonny Peralta's two-out double -- to break a scoreless tie in the seventh.
“I kept the team in the game,’’ Lester said. “It was just kind of a grind for me today. I didn’t have a feel for my off-speed pitches early on. I had to figure out ways to put guys away. They didn’t give me a chance early on ... but I was able to get a couple of double plays.’’
On the pitch before Avila hit his run-scoring double, Lester thought he had struck out the Tigers' catcher. It was a 2-and-2 fastball, but plate umpire Dale Scott didn’t budge. Lester threw the same pitch with the count full, only it was up a little more and caught more of the plate. Avila sliced it into the left-field corner, where it dropped barely a foot or so away from outfielder Cody Ross.
Lester barked at the umpire on his way off the mound, but registered no complaints afterward.
“Hell, I think everything is a strike,’’ he said. “On the 3-and-2, I tried to make him put it in play, but he stayed with it and put a good swing on it.’’
Lester gave up six hits and the one earned run, while walking three and striking out four. He threw 107 pitches and was trailing 1-0 when he left.
Verlander, who retired the last seven batters he faced, still had one inning left in him.
“Yeah, I made one mistake,’’ Lester said, “but against a guy like that, that’s what beats you.’’