SEATTLE -- Rarely do lineups meager or formidable have a shot at knocking 2010 Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez out of the game early.
Despite boasting the top offense in baseball, the Red Sox couldn’t figure it out either -- even though Hernandez looked vulnerable.
Even so, the Mariners stuck the Red Sox with an 11-4 loss at Safeco Field.
Boston squandered early opportunities to give Jon Lester a lead in his return to the Pacific Northwest. Much like Detroit ace Justin Verlander, Hernandez often takes a few innings before he settles down and gets his arsenal of pitches working.
Hernandez's control was erratic in the second, and David Ortiz and Mike Carp lined a pair of singles, but Jarrod Saltalamacchia softly flew out to left. Jose Iglesias struck out with runners on first and second to end the threat.
In the third, the Sox had two more opportunities with a runner in scoring position when Brock Holt walked and advanced to second on a hit-and-run. Again, they didn’t deliver.
Boston entered the series batting .278 with RISP but couldn’t muster a hit through the first three innings in four tries with a runner on second.
Hernandez began the fifth by pegging Iglesias before back-to-back singles from Holt and Nava cut the Seattle lead to 2-1. Holt tied the game when Jonny Gomes struck out on a wild pitch that got past catcher Mike Zunino and all the way to the backstop.
But Pedroia and Napoli failed to collect a hit, and Hernandez escaped the frame without surrendering the lead.
It would come back to haunt the Sox when Raul Ibanez continued his renaissance season in the fifth by knocking a leadoff home run off Lester. Michael Saunders drove in two more with a double in the sixth off reliever Alex Wilson, and Ibanez made it 6-2 with a two-out single.
Facing Hernandez at full strength is hard enough, but the Red Sox's task was made more difficult given their makeshift lineup. Jacoby Ellsbury was absent his standard leadoff role and would have had a better shot of tracking down the game-changing Saunders double that sailed over Nava’s head in center. Shane Victorino, who has collected a hit in 12 of his last 15 games, also didn’t start.
Boston’s thin bullpen mandated the type of dominant performance Lester hasn’t shown consistently since 2010, when he finished 19-9 with a 3.25 ERA and posted 225 strikeouts.
They needed vintage Lester.
He instead was lukewarm, lasting just five innings and giving up five runs on nine hits. Lester's face turned a darker shade of red after not receiving a few third-strike calls on pitches that appeared to be over the plate. Root Sports cameras caught the Bellarmine Prep (Tacoma, Wash.) graduate screaming at home plate umpire Ed Hickox, whose strike zone drew the ire of players and coaches from both dugouts.
Hickox and Lester later appeared to talk and settle their problem.
If only the Boston bullpen could have done the same. Relievers Wilson and Jose De La Torre combined to yield six hits and six runs in three innings.