NEW YORK — Jon Lester walked Derek Jeter leading off the first inning and allowed a single to Nick Swisher.
Even with a 2-0 lead, it seemed like the Boston Red Sox were headed for another frustrating day.
Lester worked out of trouble by retiring the next three hitters, pretty much breezed his way through seven innings and won consecutive starts for the first time since mid-May.
“It’s been a grinding season,” he said Saturday after pitching the Red Sox over the New York Yankees 4-1. “I said back a month or so ago, I’m not giving up. Keep working hard, and things will turn. The last handful of starts I feel like they have.”
Adrian Gonzalez hit a two-run homer in the first off David Phelps (3-4) and Yankees nemesis Pedro Ciriaco was 4 for 4, raising his average against New York to .517 (15 for 29) — all in seven games this year. That’s the second-highest for a player with at least 25 plate appearances against the Yankees in his career, according to STATS LLC, behind only Barry Bonds’ .533.
“Do you think they’ll try to trade for him?” Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said. “It hasn’t surprised me. It amazes me that he is who he is with that kind of talent and hasn’t been utilized before.”
On a notable afternoon in the Bronx, Boston reliever Craig Breslow and catcher Ryan Lavarnway became what is thought to be the first all-Yale battery in the major leagues since 1883. Breslow, a molecular biophysics and biochemistry major, is a 2002 graduate. Lavarnway, a philosophy major, left after his junior year in 2008 to turn pro.
“We didn’t need to put any signs down. We’re all on the same wavelength,” Breslow joked.
Fourth-place Boston won for just the fourth time in 11 games as the Red Sox try to right their foundering season.
Lester (7-10) had not won consecutive outings since May 14 against Seattle and May 19 at Philadelphia. He allowed five hits with four strikeouts and two walks, giving up his only run when Curtis Granderson homered in the fourth. Before defeating Cleveland 14-1 last Sunday, Lester had gone 0-5 with a 7.49 ERA in seven starts from the beginning of July.
“A lot more balls that are hit have been hit for hits and a lot of them they were well placed,” Valentine said. “Sometimes that happens and sometimes it just stops. Hopefully, it’s stopped.”
Lester needed 24 pitches to get through the first. With two on, he struck out Robinson Cano, retired Andruw Jones on a slow bouncer to third as the runners advance and fanned Casey McGehee.
New York went 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position. After Granderson doubled leading off the seventh, Lester stranded him on third.
Lester didn’t look like a pitcher with a 5.03 ERA.
“You look at the numbers, you kind of step back, because you know that’s not the type of pitcher that he is,” said Swisher, who went 3 for 4. “Today you got the best of Jon Lester you’ve seen in a while.”
After Andrew Bailey started the eighth and gave up a one-out single to Swisher, Breslow induced an inning-ending, double-play grounder from Cano, who is in a 1-for-21 skid. Alfredo Aceves pitched the ninth for his 25th save in 31 chances.
According to STATS and baseballreference.com, the only previous all-Yale battery was in on Sept. 15, 1883, when the Philadelphia Athletics’ Jack Jones pitched to Al Hubbard. The Red Sox said they had been talking with Yale in recent days and had not yet been able to confirm that.
“There’s been kind of an influx of talent in the Ivy League over the last few years,” Breslow said of the brainy battery.
Instead of giving up the lead in the middle innings, Boston had boosted its lead to 3-1 in the fifth when Ciriaco singled with one out and scored on Nick Punto’s double into the right-field corner.
Punto helped Lester avoid trouble in the fifth. Ichiro Suzuki singled with one out and stole second, and Jeter hit a hard one-hopper to third. The ball bounced off Punto’s glove into the air, and he grabbed the ball with his bare hand and threw to first for the out. Swisher then struck out on a check swing.
Ciriaco doubled in the ninth, sending Scott Podsednik to third, and Cody Eppley threw a run-scoring wild pitch.
Whenever he plays against the Yankees, Ciriano seems to give the Red Sox a jolt.
“A bunt for a base hit, a hit-and-run double, a stolen base, a curveball to right field, base hit to center field on a fastball,” Valentine said. “That’s a good day.”
NOTES: Red Sox LHP Brian Johnson, a first-round draft pick in June, was hit on the face with a line drive in a Future Games at Boston’s Fenway Park. Johnson sustained multiple orbital bone fractures on the left side of his face, Red Sox spokeswoman Pam Ganley said. He was taken to a hospital, where she said he was resting comfortably. There were no signs of a concussion. … Dustin Pedro ia doubled in the eighth, extending his hitting streak to 13 games. … INF Mauro Gomez was recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket and LHP Felix Doubront was placed on the 15-day DL with a bruised right knee. The Doubront move was retroactive to Aug. 10, and the Red Sox expect he will rejoin the rotation as soon as he’s eligible to come off the DL. … Punto had eight assists at third. … Phelps gave up three runs and seven hits in 6 2-3 innings and struick out seven. He fanned Cody Ross three times, all on breaking balls.