BOSTON -- Just when it appeared safe to be Jon Lester again, the Red Sox left-hander left the mound in the eighth inning Thursday night in the company of Sox assistant trainer Masai Takahashi.
That threatened to spoil an otherwise eminently satisfying 7-4 win over the Toronto Blue Jays, one in which Lester regained his equilibrium with seven strong innings while the Sox offense posted a 7-spot in the second inning.
But take a deep breath, everyone. Manager John Farrell said Lester sustained what the Sox medical staff called a jammed right hip when he slipped on the mound while throwing a pitch in the eighth inning, but it didn't appear to be an issue that will linger. Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia told a different story, saying Lester had mentioned some discomfort in the previous inning.
But Lester said after the game he felt "normal" and expected to make his next start.
That came as a huge relief to the Sox, who before the game said pitcher Clay Buchholz has inflammation in the bursa sac of his right shoulder, a condition known as bursitis, and is uncertain of pitching again until after the All-Star break.
"I slipped a little bit," Lester said. "The doctors called it a jammed hip. Kind of a zinging sensation down my leg, something I've had before in years past when you slip or overstride. This was a little different, and the part of the game we were in, we didn't want to mess around with it at that particular juncture.
"I actually feel fine now. Walking off the field, it kind of stays with you a little while, but after the doctors looked at me, I feel normal. So hopefully that'll carry over to tomorrow and I won't have to worry about it."
Lester, who hadn't pitched into the eighth inning since May 10, the last time he faced the Blue Jays, gave up ground-ball singles to Rajai Davis and Maicer Izturis to open the inning, then fell behind 2-and-0 to Emilio Bonifacio, the ninth man in the Jays' order. After his next pitch, also a ball, he bent over, hands on knees, while catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia gestured to the dugout, bringing out Farrell and Takahashi to the mound.
Lester left almost immediately. "No point in being a hero," he said, "especially since we have a long way to go in the season."
Saltalamacchia said that Lester actually mentioned some discomfort the inning before.
"I talked to him about it the inning before and he kind of had it then," Saltalamacchia said. "He felt OK to go out there. He's a strong guy. I've never seen him come out and let it affect his next start. He's a workhorse."
This was the third straight game the Sox had seized a big lead early: 7-1 against the Rockies after three on Tuesday, 5-1 against the Rockies after three on Wednesday, 7-0 after two on Thursday, the Sox chasing former Yankee Chien-Ming Wang, who had come into the game with a streak of 16 2/3 innings without allowing an unearned run. The Jays also had come into the game winners of 15 of their last 19 games, posting a 2.43 staff ERA over that span.
That streak expired when the Sox sent 11 batters to the plate in the second inning, Dustin Pedroia's two-run home run on an 0-and-2 pitch capping a seven-hit uprising that began with walks to David Ortiz and Mike Carp.
Lester, meanwhile, had come into the game with a 7.30 ERA in his last seven starts, though he had ended a string of six straight starts without a win by eking out a 7-5 win over the Tigers in Detroit last Friday night.
He may well look back at the first inning Thursday as the key to his turnaround, though it didn't begin that way. Lester walked leadoff man Reyes and fell behind Jays strongman Bautista 3-and-0 as the crowd stirred restlessly. But Lester followed with a fastball strike, then retired Bautista on a fly ball. Encarnacion then rolled into a double play, and Lester coasted thereafter until the fifth, when two singles and a gap double by Izturis produced two runs.
"That top of the lineup now, with Bautista hitting second, makes it that much harder," Lester said. "Obviously the walk to Reyes doesn't help anything, but I was able to bear down with Bautista. He missed a really good pitch for him, just missed that ball, which was good for me. Then getting that double play was big to get into the next inning."
Lester was trying out a new wrinkle in his windup, one in which he started with his hands at neck level, then dropped them down to his waist before bringing them back up again.
"He's kind of been working on some mechanics stuff," catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. "I know in Detroit he worked on some stuff with trying to load a bit on his back side so he's not rushing. Get his hands moving. He kind of was moving his hands before he got set, so he can get in the rhythm and stay on time."
Lester, sticking primarily with a fastball-changeup mix, obviously grew more comfortable with his new mechanics after the first. He threw 21 of 27 first-pitch strikes, and had the aggressive Jays chasing 11 pitches out of the strike zone. He also induced 10 swings and misses.
It was by far his best outing in over a month, and one that signaled perhaps he is out of his funk.
"I've said it before, we don't go to the playoffs, we don't go to the World Series, we don't do any of that stuff without all five of those guys," Saltalamacchia said, referencing the team's rotation. "Lester's a big key part."