BALTIMORE -- How much did it mean to the Red Sox to have left-hander Jon Lester throw seven shutout innings against the Orioles, limiting them to four singles in a 5-0 win?
"A Jon Lester pitching to his capabilities is going to be one of the better pitchers in the league," manager John Farrell said. "He's shown it the last couple of times out. Again, I think he's getting a better understanding of the overall pitch mix, how to be most effective. His changeup continues to be a very good weapon for him, and he was efficient once again today."
Lester relied almost exclusively on his fastball, either the elevated four-seamer or two-seamer, and his changeup with great effectiveness, once again putting his cutter in his back pocket. He threw five cutters in his last start Tuesday against Tampa Bay, and threw fewer than that Sunday. According to ESPN Stats & Info, he threw none on Sunday.
The win was the 10th of the season for Lester, eclipsing the nine wins he had in a disappointing 2012. He shaved his ERA from 4.50 to 4.27, and has a 3.13 ERA for his five July starts, a strong suggestion that his extended funk is nearing an end.
Lester had won his first 14 career decisions against the Orioles before losing two straight. He is now 15-2 against the O’s, with his finest work Sunday coming in the sixth, after the Orioles put the first two runners on base on a rare throwing error by Dustin Pedroia and a pop fly that fell just inside the right-field foul line for a single by Adam Jones. Lester struck out Matt Wieters after Wieters had yanked a changeup just foul on a bid for a home run, then induced J.J. Hardy to ground into a double play.
“It’s huge," Lester said of taking two of three from the Orioles, after Baltimore won the opener and had won the previous six series between the teams. “The biggest part is they’ve given us a lot of trouble this year, so to come down here, especially after that series against the Rays, is big for us. It puts us in good position to go back home."
* The Sox did a great job of shutting down Orioles slugger Chris Davis, who had two harmless singles in 11 at-bats while whiffing seven times. Davis, who leads the majors with 37 home runs, has not hit a home run in his last 10 games, and has struck out at least once in each of his last 22 games. That’s the longest active streak in the majors and ties Detroit’s Austin Jackson for longest this season.
* The Sox scored first in both games this weekend, and are now 44-9 when scoring first, their .830 winning percentage the best in the majors. They’re also 20-11 (.645) in day games, which also is the best in the bigs.
* Dustin Pedroia was robbed of extra bases by center fielder Adam Jones in the first inning and later lined out, but despite squaring up a couple of balls and drawing a walk, he went 0-for- 4, his slump now at 3-for-35 (.086). Jose Iglesias also went 0-for-4, was 1-for-11 this weekend, and is now batting .330, his average having dropped 73 percentage points since he was last over .400 (.403) on July 6.
In his last 17 games, Iglesias is 10-for-63 (.159), with all 10 hits singles, and has not drawn a walk in that span.
Pedroia and Iglesias both made terrific defensive plays Sunday. Pedroia withstood a hard takeout slide by Adam Jones to turn a double play in the sixth, and Iglesias made a startlingly quick release of Manny Machado’s ground ball to start another double play in the eighth.
Machado, meanwhile, raised the name of Orioles all-timer Brooks Robinson (and not in vain) with his sensational play all weekend. Machado, like Iglesias, is a converted shortstop, though Iglesias may return to that position.
* Jarrod Saltalamacchia played in all three games of this series, even though it meant catching a day game after a night game in the heat and humidity of Baltimore. You would never have known it by the way Saltalamacchia ran hard on a routine ground ball to first base. He later doubled and hit a two-run single.
* Mike Carp walked in three trips as he started back-to-back games, Daniel Nava sitting for the second straight game. Carp came into the game batting .387 in July. Nava has reached base in 21 straight starts, but has cooled off a bit since the All-Star break, going 2-for-12 while making just three starts in the last nine games.
* With his two home runs and five RBIs Saturday, Stephen Drew became the first Sox shortstop since Nomar Garciaparra to hit at least two homers and drive in at least five runs in a game. Garciaparra hit three home runs and drove in eight runs on July 23, 2002, in a 22-4 win over Tampa Bay, the first game of a double-header in Fenway Park. Garciaparra also hit three home runs and drove in 10 runs on May 10, 1999, against Seattle, also at Fenway.