BOSTON — A bounce-back performance from Jon Lester and one big inning was all the Boston Red Sox needed to take care of the Toronto Blue Jays Thursday night.
It may have come at a cost as Lester left the 7-4 victory in the eighth inning with an injury. But after the game the left-hander seemed like he would be fine.
Obviously, that’s great news for the first-place Red Sox, who already have Clay Buchholz on the disabled list.
“I slipped a little bit,” Lester said after improving to 8-4 with his third win of the season over the Jays. “I guess the doctors were kind of calling it a little jammed hip, (a) type of zinging sensation down my leg. It’s something I’ve had before in years past, on particular nights when you slip or over-stride, but this was a little bit different. And then obviously the part of the game that we were in, no point to really mess around with it at that particular juncture of the game.
“I actually feel fine now. Walking off the field, it just kind of stays with you for a little while, and then after the docs looked at me, I feel normal. Hopefully that will carry over to tomorrow and we won’t have to worry about it.”
Lester, pitching his best game since May 15, tossed seven-plus strong innings in a light mist that may have contributed to him slipping.
He allowed a pair of singles to start the eighth, and his 2-0 pitch to Emilio Bonafacio sailed outside the strike zone. He was done, but the Red Sox, hitting the halfway mark of the season at 48-33, finished off the opener of a four-game weekend series.
Dustin Pedroia capped a seven-run second inning with a two-run homer (No. 5) and that was all for the Boston offense, which went scoreless in 6 1/3 innings against the Toronto bullpen.
Lester, who started the season by going 6-0 in his first nine starts, won his second straight, but pitched well in this one. He gave up five runs on nine hits in 5 2/3 innings at Detroit last weekend and came into Thursday night’s game 1-4 with a 7.30 ERA in his last seven starts.
But he beat the Blue Jays, winners of 15 of their last 19 coming in, and he is 14-7 lifetime against Toronto, including 7-2 at home.
Lester, who pitched a one-hit shutout against the Jays May 10, overcame a bit of first-inning wildness (he got away with a 3-1 hanger to Jose Bautista) and took a no-hitter into the fifth. But he gave up three hits and two runs in that inning, including Maicer Izturis’two-run double.
Lester was charged with four runs but two of the runners he left on base scored in the eighth after he left.
Junichi Tazawa relieved. He finished off the walk to Bonafacio and then two runs scored on outs. Then new closer Koji Uehara picked up his second save in as many nights (No. 3 overall) by working his second perfect ninth inning in a row (four strikeouts in the two games).
“Strike throwing ability … regardless if it’s the ninth, the sixth or whatever inning he’s pitching he doesn’t change his approach and he has a pitch to get himself back into a given count,” manager John Farrell said of Uehara.
“When Andrew Bailey’s struggles began it was a clear-cut decision that Uehara would be the next guy in that role,” Farrell said. “He’s pitched in that role in Japan, he’s saved a number of games here in the states and I think the biggest key for him is he doesn’t change who he is or what he attempts to do regardless of the inning.”
Chien-Ming Wang (1-1) was driven from the game in the big second inning as the first seven Red Sox reached before a double play. Pedroia then homered.
The loss dropped the last-place Blue Jays 71/2 games behind Boston in the crowded AL East.
“It’s a huge series for us,” said Toronto’s Jose Reyes, who had a sacrifice fly but is 0-for-6 in two games off the disabled list (ankle). “The Red Sox are in first place and they are playing good baseball right now.”
Wang, who came in without having allowed an earned run in 16 and 2/3 innings, worked a typical Wang inning — three groundouts in the first inning. He should have called it a night right there.
The first seven Red Sox reached in the second, starting with two walks. Wang got a double play but Pedroia then hit his first homer in 111 at-bats.
This is a big series for Toronto and it didn’t start well.
“We have dug ourselves a big hole early on this season and every game matters,” said catcher J.P. Arencibia. “We need to make up ground and it doesn’t matter who we are playing.”
NOTES: An MRI on Buchholz’s pitching shoulder showed bursitis, an inflammation of the bursa sac. No word on how long Buchholz, who last pitched June 8 and has worked twice since May 22, will be out. … Toronto 3B Brett Lawrie (ankle) was 2-for-3 in his second rehab start at A-Ball Dunedin and is 3-for-5 with an RBI in two games. … Red Sox 1B Mike Napoli, who has one extra base hit since June 1, got the night off, with Mike Carp getting the start. … Toronto RHP Josh Johnson goes for his second American League win when he faces Boston rookie Allen Webster in Game 2 of the series Friday night. The weather is threatening for the entire weekend and Friday wasn’t looking great.