BALTIMORE -- The world, or at least that part of it inhabited by those who have an excessive fondness for the Boston Red Sox, appears to be divided along a very obvious fault line:
Those who believe Jon Lester is in a month-long funk from which he will ultimately emerge;
Those who believe that Lester ain’t what he used to be, and the past month bears witness to just how much he has slipped.
There doesn’t seem to be much room in between when the topic is the Red Sox left-hander.
On May 15, Lester was 6-0 with a 2.72 ERA, his place at the top of the Red Sox firmament fully restored.
After giving up five runs on nine hits in Sunday’s 6-3 loss to the Baltimore Orioles, Lester is 0-4 with a 7.20 ERA in his past six starts. He lasted five innings Sunday after going just 4 2/3 innings Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Rays. His overall ERA has climbed to 4.37; public confidence in him has dropped somewhere below the temperature of liquid hydrogen.
He did a number of things right Sunday, registering eight strikeouts, walking no one, and inducing 22 swings and misses.
But he also gave up five extra-base hits, including a two-run home run by Chris Davis -- the Orioles’ first baseman who hit his major league-leading 23rd roundtripper in the third -- then gave up a couple of more runs in the fifth, an inning that began with a double by Nick Markakis, was followed by a bloop single by Manny Machado compounded by a throwing error by Mike Carp, and culminated in a flared opposite-field double by Davis that fell just out of the reach of Jonny Gomes.
The Orioles took three of four from the Sox, cutting Boston’s lead to 1 ½ games in the AL East.