NEW YORK -- I knew I was inviting trouble when I wrote a column earlier in the week saying it was too simple to point at the [now] 17-28 won-loss record the Red Sox have in games pitched by Jon Lester and Josh Beckett and blame them completely for the team’s fall to subterranean levels this season. My first sign of impending doom was when my boss said I had not convinced him a whit.
My cause was then submarined further when Beckett, starting just hours after the column was posted, unraveled in the sixth inning against the Orioles in Baltimore and ultimately was charged with a yield of six runs. The reader comments came fast and furious. Many were a variation of the one posted by someone who calls himself From Milan To Minsk:
“Gordo you $@%!$@ idiot, how about those Red Sox tonight? Go Beckett! He %!$@%! sucks. This team $@%!$@ sucks. %!$@!’’
And that was one of the milder ones.
A few very brave souls, such as one NickSal11, offered some support for my position.
“All things aside, this article made sense I thought. A run or two here or there would dramatically change our conversations we're having today, and I think that was the intended goal of this article. Not saying hey, this isn't their fault, but to emphasize some of the close games that they took the losses on.’’
Since posting that, of course, NickSal11 has had to enter the witness protection program.
Which brings us to Saturday’s start by Lester, a 4-1 Sox win over the Yankees in which the Bombers’ only run was scored on a home run by Curtis Granderson. Three times Lester stranded runners on third base, and he escaped unscathed from a first inning in which he walked leadoff man Derek Jeter and gave up a single to Nick Swisher, which has been the recipe for too many ineffective outings this season.
It didn’t happen this time, in part because rookie catcher Ryan Lavarnway went out to the mound to talk to the left-hander.
“You don’t want to be walking guys early in the game,’’ he said, “so I went out there. We kind of let the momentum die down a bit, recomposed ourselves and started over.’’
Lester responded by striking out Robinson Cano, retired Andruw Jones on a slow roller to third baseman Nick Punto and struck out Casey McGehee. Sure, it was a break for Lester that the Yankees’ 4-5 hitters weren’t Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, both out with injuries, but it was an impressive bit of pitching nonetheless. And it set the tone for the rest of his outing.
“He was a confident, aggressive, good-looking pitcher,’’ Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said.
Now, I’m not going to resurrect my crowd-pleasing effort of a few days ago, regardless of how much inspiration I derive from being labeled a clueless moron by the anonymous gatekeepers of our new media culture. (Back in pre-Internet days, my critics often wrote me unsigned letters in crayon, but they are far outnumbered by the brave cyberspace bashers of today.)
I will note, however, that Valentine also was of the opinion Saturday that Lester, who won back-to-back starts for just the second time this season, this pair coming after he went 0-5 in his previous seven starts, has pitched better than his 7-10 record would suggest.
“Absolutely,’’ Valentine said.
Then why the subpar record?
“Sometimes it just happens in a year,’’ he said. “All the statistical information we have, a lot of balls that are hit have been hit for hits; they were well placed. Sometimes that happens. And sometimes it just stops. Hopefully it stops.’’
Lester has owned up to his worst starts this season. But it is clear that he also believes he has pitched better than the results.
“It’s always good to see the fruits of your labor, for lack of a better term,’’ he said. “Like I said it’s been a grinding season, but I’m not giving up, I’m working hard, hoping that things will turn. The past handful of starts, I feel like they have.’’
Obviously Lester has figured a few things out, including the ability to throw his cutter again with the effectiveness that made it such an effective pitch in the past. But Lester, who has gone seven innings in 10 of his 25 starts this season, holding opponents to three runs or fewer in eight of them -- and has a record of 3-3 with two no-decisions in those eight starts -- would argue he has not been as bad as he has been portrayed.
“Everything looks good,’’ he said, “when you get good results. That’s all it comes down to.’’
Can we agree on that, Milan to Minsk?
One other note on Lester: Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy asked him about reports that teammates were incensed that Valentine left him in to take an 11-run beating in four innings against Toronto in his second start after the All-Star break.
"I pitch until he takes ball out of my hand,'' Lester said. "That’s all I can control.''
But did Lester have a problem with being left in that game, Shaughnessy asked.
"I pitch till he takes the ball out of my hand,'' Lester said in monotone fashion, his eyes above the cluster of reporters gathered around him.
Sure looked and sounded like Lester had a problem with it. But when your ERA is still over 5, not much you can really say.