Boston’s Lester stifles Rays in opener

Boston's Mike Napoli reaches the bag on a double, despite a close tag by the Tampa Bay's Ben Zobrist at second base, in the fifth inning of Game 1 of their American League Divisional Series Friday at Fenway Park in Boston.
James Borchuck | MCT
Boston's Mike Napoli reaches the bag on a double, despite a close tag by the Tampa Bay's Ben Zobrist at second base, in the fifth inning of Game 1 of their American League Divisional Series Friday at Fenway Park in Boston.
Posted Oct. 04, 2013, at 7:49 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 04, 2013, at 8:18 p.m.

BOSTON — The Boston Red Sox got some help from Tampa Bay’s defense and piled up a big offensive performance Friday afternoon in Game 1 of the American League Division Series.

Jon Lester pitched a solid 7 2/3 innings, Jonny Gomes had a two-run double to spark a five-run fourth inning and the Red Sox beat the Rays 12-2. The Red Sox capitalized on a few Tampa Bay defensive miscues during its big fourth as they beat starter Matt Moore, the first of the Rays’ two prized left-handed starters.

It all started with a misplayed fly ball that turned into a ground-rule double and triggered a big inning as the Red Sox recovered from an early 2-0 hole.

“It pretty much started and a big contribution in that inning was the fly ball that ended up bouncing up for the ground-rule double,” Boston manager John Farrell said.

Trailing 2-0, the Red Sox with a runner on first, David Ortiz hit a high fly that right fielder Wil Myers looked like he was going to catch before he stood at the edge of the warning track. But the ball bounced off the track behind him and into Boston’s bullpen. He stood there staring at center fielder Desmond Jennings. Gomes then hit a two-run double off the left-field wall and, one out later, scored from second on Stephen Drew’s infield hit, pushing Boston ahead 3-2.

“I don’t know what happened, but I’ve always said coming in with my playoff experience, you play 162 games, a lot of pitches, a lot of runs. One thing you can guarantee in the playoffs is you’re going to see something you haven’t seen all year,” said Gomes. “And (we) saw that right away.”

Will Middlebrooks then doubled off the Green Monster and left fielder Sean Rodriguez misplayed the carom, allowing Drew to score from first. Jacoby Ellsbury reached on a passed ball when he struck out for what would have been the final out before Victorino’s RBI single made it 5-2.

It was the first of two straight innings the Red Sox batted around.

“Yeah, we didn’t play our best game tonight,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “Fortunately it’s not one of those one-and-done kind of games. We’ve been playing very well. We hadn’t been making a lot of mistakes. We made a bunch tonight, whether that or covering first base and not looking home or missing a strike three.”

Jarrod Saltalamacchia had three RBIs and Shane Victorino drove in a pair for the AL East champion Red Sox, who tied St. Louis for the most victories in the majors during the regular season with 97.

Game 2 of the best-of-five series is Saturday at Fenway Park. Game 3 will be in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Monday.

Tampa Bay lefty David Price is slated to face John Lackey on Saturday.

Rodriguez and Ben Zobrist had solo homers for the Rays in the opener.

Lester gave up two runs and three hits, walked three and fanned seven in his 114-pitch effort.

“That’s as powerful stuff as Jon’s had all year long,” Farrell said. “It came at a very good time.”

In the fifth, Boston chased Moore on Saltalamacchia’s two-run double that made it 7-2. Ellsbury added an RBI single, giving every Red Sox batter in the starting lineup at least one hit in the initial five innings.

Moore, who had a two-hit shutout against Boston in late July, was tagged for eight runs on eight hits in 4 1/3 innings.

It was Lester’s third career start to open a postseason (2008 and 2009), and he came out strong, striking out the first four hitters swinging before Rodriguez’s homer.

“Getting to start Game 1 in Fenway Park, the adrenaline was going,” Lester said. “Our game plan early on was to set the tone, come right after the guys. It felt pretty good — and, obviously, the velocity up there showed.”

Coming off three elimination wins, the Rays jumped ahead 1-0 in the second when Rodriguez homered into the seats above the Green Monster after he took a borderline ball on a 2-2 pitch. When the inning was over, Lester stopped along the first-base line to chat with home plate umpire Chris Guccione.

Zobrist led off the fourth with his shot into the second row of seats above the Monster. The Rays then had a pair of runners with one out, but Lester escaped further scoring.

Tampa Bay won Sunday in Toronto, forcing a one-game play-in for the second wild card spot where it beat Texas in Arlington on Monday. The Rays then traveled to Cleveland where they defeated the Indians on Wednesday in the AL’s wild-card game.

“Normally when it happens during the regular season, I just say throw that one in the garbage can,” Maddon said. “And being that it’s the first of five, let’s do the same thing now.”

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