With one ace already on the disabled list, the Boston Red Sox weren’t taking any chances when their other star pitcher landed awkwardly after a pitch late in the game.
By that point, though, Jon Lester had more than done his job.
Lester pitched into the eighth inning before jamming his right hip and leaving the game, and Dustin Pedroia homered during a seven-run second to help the Red Sox beat the Toronto Blue Jays 7-4 in the opener of a four-game series Thursday night.
"I slipped a little bit. I guess the doctors were kind of calling it a little jammed hip, a type of zinging sensation down my leg." Lester said. "It just didn’t feel normal and like I said, at that point in the game, especially with that offense — they can score some runs in a hurry — so there’s no point in trying to be a hero. We’ve got a long way to go the rest of the season."
Toronto, which reeled off 11 straight wins this month, had won 12 of its past 14 games and 15 of 19 to close within 6 games of the AL East-leading Red Sox.
Then the Blue Jays ran into Lester.
The left-hander retired 10 straight to begin the game and didn’t allow a hit until the fifth. But he exited the game with a 7-2 lead after giving up consecutive singles to start the eighth and running the count to 3-0 on Emilio Bonifacio.
Farrell came darting out of the dugout as the infielders crowded around Lester. Moments later, Lester walked off the field and Junichi Tazawa came on in relief.
"The final pitch that he threw, his landing foot kind of gave way and he jammed his hip," Farrell said. "Given where we were in the ballgame and the number of pitches he had thrown, he clearly had done his job and we weren’t going to take any chances."
It was quite a scare for Red Sox Nation.
Clay Buchholz, who is 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA, hasn’t pitched since June 8 because of neck stiffness and a sore shoulder.
Lester, however, isn’t concerned about his leg. He has experienced this before and doesn’t think he will miss any starts.
"I’m not too worried about it. The doctors didn’t seem worried about it," he said. "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."
The Blue Jays capitalized when Lester left the game, cutting the deficit to 7-4 on a sacrifice fly by Jose Reyes and a groundout by Jose Bautista.
Koji Uehara preserved the lead with a perfect ninth for his third save.
Lester (8-4) was charged with four runs on five hits with five strikeouts and three walks in winning for just the second time in his last eight starts.
"I feel that responsibility to go out there and save the bullpen and that’s what we tried to do tonight," Lester said. "Obviously would have liked to give (Tazawa) a little better situation than what he came into, but he kept us with the lead and that’s the main thing."
After starting the season 6-0 with a 2.72 ERA through his first nine starts, Lester struggled over his past seven, going 1-4 with a 7.30 ERA.
He returned to form just in time to face baseball’s best team in June — and Boston’s bats provided him all the support he needed.
The Red Sox jumped all over Chien-Ming Wang, tagging the right-hander for seven runs while batting around in the second. Wang (1-1) lasted just 1 2-3 innings, allowing all seven runs on six hits with two walks and no strikeouts.
"They dropped seven on us," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "Against a good pitcher, you are never going to catch that. Too much to overcome."
Lester needed only 30 pitches to get through three innings and didn’t allow a baserunner until Bautista walked with one out in the fourth.
Melky Cabrera singled for Toronto’s first hit with one out in the fifth and moved to second on a base hit by Rajai Davis. Maicer Izturis drove them both home with a double to left-center.
Yet it wasn’t enough to make up for Boston’s blistering start.
Wang allowed the first seven batters to reach base during the drawn-out second.
David Ortiz and Mike Carp walked, Daniel Nava delivered an RBI single off the Green Monster in left field and Jarrod Saltalamacchia followed with an RBI single up the middle to make it 2-0.
Stephen Drew’s double to right scored Nava, and consecutive base hits by Jose Iglesias and Jacoby Ellsbury stretched the lead to 5-0 before Wang even managed an out.
It got even worse.
After inducing a double play, Wang served up Pedroia’s fifth homer of the season, a two-run shot that landed in the first row of Green Monster seats and ended Wang’s evening after just 45 pitches.
"We swung the bats well," Pedroia said. "A lot of guys strung together some quality at-bats. It was a huge inning for us."
NOTES: The Red Sox played their 81st game, marking the 16th consecutive season Boston has owned a winning record halfway through the season. … Red Sox RHP Clay Buchholz, on the DL with a neck strain, has been shut down for two to three days with lingering soreness in his right shoulder, according to Farrell. Buchholz (9-0, 1.71 ERA) underwent an MRI on Wednesday that revealed inflammation in the bursa sac area, but no structural damage. Farrell said he hopes Buchholz will resume throwing this weekend. … Ellsbury has hit safely in eight straight games and 22 of the past 25. … Wang fell to 6-7 in 16 career appearances against the Red Sox. … Toronto RHP Josh Johnson (1-2, 4.60 ERA) will face Allen Webster (0-2, 11.25) in the second game of the series Friday. … Carp returned to the lineup after missing three games and eight of the past nine with right hamstring tightness.