BOSTON -- As the offense has struggled mightily for the Red Sox, the pitching staff has been forced to deal with a miniscule margin for error. This causes anxiety and difficult conditions in which to play the game, and to succeed.
“Our pitchers live it every day, they’re well aware of where we are as a team,” manager John Farrell said Thursday afternoon, hinting at the pressure that is placed on the rotation.
Hours later there was a perfect example of this scenario, as Jon Lester struggled through one frustrating inning en route to a 5-2 win over the Cleveland Indians. Within that frame, there was an error (on Lester) and two hits on balls that could’ve been outs with just an inch here or there. The leader of a staff charged with keeping a stumbling squad afloat, Lester showed plenty of that stress and anxiety but flushed those emotions aside with a composed finish.
Lester stranded the tying and go-ahead runs in the sixth to preserve what was a 3-2 advantage, and then worked into the eighth in a satisfying win in the opener of a seven-game homestand.
Farrell was impressed by the left-hander’s ability to rebound in a situation that has so often snowballed into disaster for the 2014 Red Sox.
“In that inning the ball is not bouncing our way. They find a couple of seeing-eye ground-ball base hits. There’s some frustration with a number of guys. I think Jon showed it a little bit. We had a chance to talk about it but, nonetheless, he came back, gets a big out to shut down that one inning. To me, that’s the most important thing. How do you respond and react to some situations that are unfolding around him? He did well by shutting it off.”
The frame began with Lester dropping a throw to first for an error that allowed the leadoff hitter to reach. After a one-out double put two men in scoring position, second baseman Dustin Pedroia failed to come up with a sharp grounder he would normally snag, resulting in a two-run single. And when another hit later in the frame glanced off the glove of diving third baseman Brock Holt and trickled into shallow left field, Lester went into a full gyration on the mound, as if he was bubbling over with anger.
It was an emphatic display of aggravation, but Lester harbored no ill will toward his teammates. It was simply a reaction to what had to feel like a here-we-go-again moment.
“I think that’s where the frustration boils over,” said Lester, who took over sole possession of ninth place on the all-time Red Sox wins list with his 107th. "You’re grinding and grinding to make pitches, and balls are just getting under guys' gloves and taking a hop and getting up on a guy and obviously you could see the frustration with me. ... That’s just, I think we’re all frustrated at how things have gone.
“Beyond that I made sure I talked to Brock," he said. "I made sure he knows that was in no way directed at him.”
Lester is known to show his displeasure on the mound, whether it be with himself or the home-plate umpire. However, he never goes overboard, and his teammates admire the intensity, knowing the competitive sentiment behind it.
“Yeah, he had some frustration, I think,” catcher David Ross said. “It’s one of those things. When the team is struggling and you’re the ace of the staff, you put a lot of pressure on yourself. I think that’s what happened to him a few years ago when he had a bad year; he puts a lot of pressure on himself.
“He’s maturing in that way in being able to control his emotions and being able to control the task at hand and get through a good lineup,” Ross added.
Outside of the sixth, Lester was very good, limiting the Indians to five other hits (eight overall) in his longest start since May 3. It came on the heels of a rough outing in Detroit, where he gave up five runs on a season-high 12 hits in a season-low 4 1/3 innings while failing to record a strikeout for the first time since April 1, 2011.
The southpaw put that outing in the rearview mirror right away with a three-pitch strikeout to begin the game. He had another punchout in the first and four through the first three innings, during which he faced the minimum.
Lester stranded one runner in the fourth and two in the fifth before preserving the lead in the sixth. Center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr.’s phenomenal double play helped Lester slice through the seventh, and he handed the ball to the pen with two down and a man on first in the eighth, a job well done on a night that could have gone in another direction if Lester was not able to compose himself and finish strong.