KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Jon Lester, the great Royal killer, looked like a flesh-and-bone mortal against a team he’s made a habit of torturing.
If there was ever a sure thing in baseball recently, it was Lester hogtying the Royals. But in the first inning of Boston’s 4-3 loss on Wednesday, Lester gave up three runs, which may seem like a rather insignificant total.
But it’s significant because in the last four years -- five games in all -- Lester has given up only three runs against the Royals. Total. He matched that in Wednesday’s first inning, although it wasn’t quite that simple. Lester labored through the cool Kansas City night, unable to hit a groove, a problem shared by the Red Sox offense.
Other than a three-run double from Adrian Gonzalez in the third inning, which increased his season RBI total by 19 percent with one swing, Boston’s attack carried little punch. (David Ortiz didn’t get a hit. Neither did Will Middlebrooks, back in the lineup after leaving Tuesday’s game early.) Lester wasn’t awful, and neither was the offense, but combined they were wholly just short of good enough.
And the damage, or most of it anyway, came right away.
With two outs and two strikes against Kansas City's Billy Butler, the first inning’s third batter, Lester didn’t get much help from home plate umpire Jeff Nelson. Then he didn’t get much help from his outfield.
One strike from ending the first, Lester didn’t get a call on a borderline pitch; he actually started walking off the mound, thinking he struck Butler out. Butler eventually walked.
Two batters later, Marlon Byrd misjudged and misplayed Johnny Giavotella’s line drive, an error that allowed a run to score. Later, Cody Ross nearly made a great running catch in left-center field, but after two steps, the ball popped out of his glove, bounced off the wall and resulted in a two-run double.
Lester gave up only one more run after the first inning, but he was never efficient. He exited after only five innings, his worst start against the Royals since his rookie year in 2006. On this night, the offense couldn’t bail him out.
For four innings, from the fifth through the eighth, Boston didn’t move a runner past first base. But come the ninth, against Royals closer Jonathan Broxton, the Sox put runners on second and third with one out.
The Sox are just 1-7 in May, and return to Fenway Park, where they are 4-10 on the season.