CHICAGO -- Jon Lester and the Red Sox can live with this pace, one loss every 10 starts.
The distinction of being undefeated in the Red Sox rotation now rests exclusively with Clay Buchholz, who will be putting his 6-0 record on the line Wednesday against the same White Sox team that handed Lester his first loss Monday night, 6-4, on a summery, 86-degree night in Chicago.
This is a city that has held its share of disappointments for Lester. It was here in 2010 that Lester came down to his last start of the season needing a win to reach 20 for the season, still the gold standard for big-league pitchers.
Instead, Paul Konerko hit a grand slam and the White Sox chased Lester in the fifth after scoring eight runs.
On Monday night, it was another White Sox strongman, Adam Dunn, who put the squeeze to Lester, following a two-out single by Alex Rios and a walk to Konerko with a towering three-run home run in the first inning, sending the White Sox on their way to victory.
Overall, Lester has a 5.43 ERA in 10 career starts against the White Sox, his highest against any American League team, which is something he can’t even begin to explain. The last thing he wants to do is allow the White Sox to get in his head.
“I’m not going to shy away from me,’’ he said. “They want us to overthink things.’’
Lester had allowed just one first-inning run in his first nine starts. Dunn’s home run was only the second he has allowed this season to a left-handed hitter, and the first he has allowed with two outs in an inning.
The White Sox did all their damage with two outs, tacking on two runs on three consecutive two-out doubles in the second, the runs knocked in by Alejandro de Aza and Alexei Ramirez, and an unearned run in the fifth, an RBI single by Dayan Viciedo bringing home Ramirez, who had reached on an error by Will Middlebrooks.
The Red Sox made a game of it, getting two runs back on Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s fifth home run of the season, which came off White Sox starter Dylan Axelrod in the third, and a two-run double by Middlebrooks in the seventh. They led off each of the last four innings with base hits, and ended four of the last five innings with fly balls that were caught on the warning track.
“I know no matter whether I give up 10 runs or no runs, these guys are going to battle every at-bat,’’ Lester said. “You know that. You’ll never hear anyone in this clubhouse question that. It’s just like they expect me after the first inning to continue to battle, after the second, try not to let the bullpen go in too early.’’
Lester lasted six innings, but was left to lament the first. Specifically, the walk to Konerko, and the 2-and-0 cutter he threw to Dunn that landed 391 feet later in the right-field seats.
“I’ve got to do a better job with Paulie there, just not walking him, giving him a chance to bat in that inning,’’ Lester said. “I didn’t do a good job there. I ended up leaving a guy that’s got stupid pop a cutter down the middle, and he did with it what he’s supposed to.’’
Lester rejected the suggestion that given Konerko’s track record against him (.435 average, 3 home runs), it made sense to pitch around him, especially with first base open, and take his chances with the left-handed hitting Dunn.
“It was only the first inning,’’ he said of going after Konerko. “I felt like I was throwing pretty well downhill, but for whatever reason, I got out of sync with him, left some balls off the plate.
“Really the guy right now swinging the bat is Dunn. That’s the one you have to be be careful with. I was kind of trying to stay away, maybe get him to fly to left, but just left a cutter middle, middle up. I threw him the same pitch later in the game and he popped it up.’’
Dunn came into the game batting just .169, but his home run was his fifth in the last seven games, and 11th overall.