Crossing their fingers on Lester

Injury does not appear to be postseason-threatening

September 26, 2009, 12:59 AM

By: Amy Nelson

NEW YORK -- The ball Melky Cabrera hit ricocheted off Jon Lester's right leg, just near his kneecap. It took a bounce -- a type normally associated with hitting off a hard object -- landing near the third-base line. Lester writhed in pain, moaning and on his back with his eyes closed, looking as though he would need to be helped off the field.

Lester insisted he walk off on his own, however hobbled his effort was. He descended into the clubhouse, leaning on trainers for support, and leaving a game the Red Sox eventually lost 9-5 to the Yankees on Friday night. Lester -- who, it was reported earlier in the day, would be the team's No. 1 starter in the playoffs -- had X-rays on the leg, which were negative. The team said he has a contusion on his right quadriceps, but Lester said afterward the ball hit him just inside and slightly above his right knee.

Jon Lester

Al Bello/Getty Images

Jon Lester went to the ground after being hit with a line drive, but he later said he thought he could make his next start.

"It hurt," he said. "It hit off my knee; it went about Mach 7."

Lester said he hopes to make his next start, scheduled for Thursday against the Blue Jays, but he will have to see how the injury responds. While manager Terry Francona said he got reports that Lester was walking around with more ease shortly after entering the clubhouse, Lester somewhat disputed that notion, saying he was trying not to favor the leg. His right knee had what looked to be a large cloth bandage on it, with another Ace bandage sheath placed around the knee.

"When you get hit like that -- with the pain and everything -- you're hoping it's not a serious injury," Lester said.

It remains to be seen whether it will be. But even before the injury, Lester's night was not going well. He left the game after 2 1/3 innings, having given up five runs and only getting seven outs.

"It seemed like when he made a mistake, they hit it," Francona said.

Added Lester: "I felt like I had good stuff tonight, but it was one of those nights where [the Yankees] made it seem like I didn't."

The 25-year-old left-hander suffered his first loss in 11 starts, his previous one coming July 19 at Toronto. He has become one of Boston's aces, and the sight of him writhing on the mound was terrifying at first.

"I just hope Jon's OK," catcher Jason Varitek said. "He's a big part of our pitching staff."

The loss kept the Red Sox's magic number for clinching a playoff berth at 3 games, and it was their fifth straight loss in the Bronx. They seem to be stumbling a bit toward their postseason goal, and Sunday is now the earliest they can clinch.

And it's not just their starting pitching that has injury issues; after the game Francona announced reliever Hideki Okajima went back to Boston to get acupuncture on his right side, which was feeling sore after he pitched in Wednesday night's game in Kansas City. Francona said the team wasn't going to pitch him in this series because of his soreness, but that it was not an oblique injury.

"It's just sore," Francona said. "He does this from time to time."

Perhaps, but the Red Sox are running out of time, with nine games left, an ace's health in question, and a pitching staff that suddenly may be more fragile than anyone thought.

Quick hits

The Yankees stole eight bases against the Red Sox; that's the most ever against their rival. Varitek was behind the plate for all of them, and after going 0-for-4, his average was down to .208 with just four hits in the month of September. … According to Elias Sports Bureau, the last time New York stole six-plus bases in a game against the Red Sox was Sept. 26, 1912, at Fenway Park. The Yankees were known as the Highlanders then. … Alex Rodriguez homered and is the fourth player in the past 55 years with 3 hits, 4-plus RBIs and 3-plus stolen bases in a game, and the first Yankee with a homer and three stolen bases in a game since Roberto Kelly in 1991. He's at 581 homers for his career, two shy of Mark McGwire for eighth all-time. … Victor Martinez extended his hitting streak to 24 games, while Dustin Pedroia had his snapped at 16 games.

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