BOSTON — Jon Lester detailed a laundry list of potential problems that plagued him during a midseason run of mediocrity.
Getting ahead of batters and not putting them away. Leaving the ball up in the zone. His cutter not being too sharp.
A couple of months ago, though, probably seems like an eternity to him and the Boston Red Sox.
Lester allowed just three hits over eight brilliant innings and the Red Sox continued their September surge with a 5-1 victory over the New York Yankees on Saturday.
“We can sit here and rattle a bunch of things off, but I’m not thinking about two months ago. I’m thinking about today,” said Lester, who surpassed 200 innings in a season for the fifth time in his career. “I’ll take today as a positive and move onto five days. Hopefully by then we’ve got this magic number down to nothing and we can celebrate.”
They’ve certainly done plenty of that lately.
Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli and Jonny Gomes each had two hits for the first-place Red Sox, who jumped out to an early 3-0 lead in rolling to their 10th win this month and 16th in their past 20 games.
Boston’s lead in the American League East is now nine games over the Tampa Bay Rays, who currently own the second wild-card slot and play later Saturday night.
The Yankees have lost six of their past 10 games, five coming against Boston, to fall 11 1/2 games back in the division and 2 1/2 behind the Rays in their push for the playoffs.
This time, they can blame Lester.
The left-hander continued his recent run of dominance, allowing just one run while retiring nine of the final 10 batters he faced. He didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning, and finished with five strikeouts and two walks to improve to 4-1 with a 1.81 ERA in his past six starts.
“It’s not uncommon for power pitchers to really hit their stride in the second half of the season, and he’s an example of that,” said Boston manager John Farrell. “His delivery becomes that much more efficient and he repeats it more consistently and with that rhythm comes power.
“What he’s done since the All-Star break has been consistent with how he started the season, and that’s a well above-average pitcher, a front-line starter. That’s who Jon Lester is.”
He continues to look more and more like the pitcher who started the season 6-0 in his first nine outings than the guy who took the mound between May 20 and Aug. 14. During that rough stretch, a span of 16 starts, Lester was just 4-7 with a 5.29 ERA.
“I knew going through what I went through in the middle of the year that it’s just a matter of time,” he said, “just keep running out there and things will take care of themselves.”
Catcher David Ross credited Boston’s starters for putting the team in the comfortable position it’s currently in.
“That’s why we haven’t gone on that long losing streak is because of the quality starting pitching that we have,” he said.
Meanwhile, fellow southpaw CC Sabathia still can’t solve the Red Sox.
Sabathia yielded five runs on nine hits over six innings, striking out five and walking four in falling to 10-11 with a 4.72 ERA in 27 career starts against Boston.
“I just felt like the command was off,” Sabathia said. “With a team like they have, when you get behind and in a hitter’s count you’re going to give up some hard-hit balls.”
Napoli opened the second inning with a single and advanced to second on a throwing error by third baseman Mark Reynolds. After a walk to Gomes, Napoli moved to third on a sacrifice and scored on a groundout by Will Middlebrooks.
The hottest team in baseball didn’t stop there, though.
Dustin Pedroia singled to lead off the third and scored on a double by David Ortiz. Napoli then continued his sizzling September with a single to left and trotted home on a base hit by Gomes.
Lester retired the first nine batters he faced before Curtis Granderson led off the fourth with a triple to deep center. Robinson Cano drove him in with a groundout to cut the deficit to 3-1.
Boston’s blistering offense answered in the fourth when Ross singled and later scored on a base hit by Victorino. A sacrifice fly by Daniel Nava in the fifth made it 5-1.
“I think just early on we were able to execute pitches,” Lester said. “You’re either going to get me or I’m going to get you.
“I don’t ever take my foot off the throttle. I’m trying to get you out with every pitch.”
NOTES: Yankees LF Alfonso Soriano was a late scratch due to a sprained right thumb. Soriano said the injury seemed to flare up during batting practice and he hopes to be in the lineup Sunday. … The Red Sox will pay tribute to Yankees closer Mariano Rivera prior to Sunday night’s game. It will mark the all-time saves leader’s final regular-season appearance at Fenway Park before retiring at the end of the year. … Lester made the 218th start of his career, passing Bruce Hurst and Tom Brewer for seventh place on Boston’s all-time list. … Red Sox C Jarrod Saltalamacchia got the day off after hitting the game-winning grand slam against New York on Friday night. … New York RHP Ivan Nova (8-4, 3.17 ERA) will oppose Boston RHP Clay Buchholz (10-0, 1.61) on Sunday in the finale of the three-game series.