Jon Lester was inducing Toronto’s aggressive batters to make outs by getting them to swing at first pitches — until Maicer Izturis came up in the sixth.
First pitch. Two-out double to left field. End of bid for perfect game and no-hitter.
But Izturis was the only Blue Jay to reach base as the Boston Red Sox broke a three-game losing streak with a 5-0 win on Friday night.
”The no-hitter, perfect game, all that stuff, the stars got to be perfectly aligned for you,” Lester said.
He should know.
Lester (5-0) threw a no-hitter on May 19, 2008, beating the Kansas City Royals 7-0. Just nine days shy of the fifth anniversary of that gem, the left-hander retired the first 17 batters before Izturis lined a clean double several feet over the outstretched arm of third baseman Will Middlebrooks that landed just inside the foul line. Lester then ended the inning by striking out pinch-hitter Adam Lind.
”If that ball’s two feet to (the) left, it’s right at him,” Lester said. ”Good pitch, what we wanted to throw especially to an aggressive hitter. He did a good job of hitting it.”
Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia could have a tough time forgetting it.
”As soon as the game was over I started thinking about it,” he said. ”Changeup, first pitch. I’m going to have nightmares about it to be honest with you.”
The closest the Blue Jays came to another hit was Brett Lawrie’s low liner starting the sixth that center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury caught easily.
”He was throwing everything,” Toronto’s J.P. Arencibia said. ”I think he used our aggressiveness against us a little bit. He’s pretty special when you could throw cutter, sinker, four-seam, hook, changeup, and on both sides of the plate. The guy’s one of the best in the game for a reason. He showed that tonight.”
Lester wasn’t the only pitcher to give up only one hit Friday. St. Louis’ Shelby Miller gave up a leadoff single then retired 27 in a row in a 3-0 victory over Colorado.
Lester finished with five strikeouts in the 10th complete game and third shutout of his career, effectively mixing his pitches and locating them precisely. He threw just 118 pitches — only 58 in the first five innings — and retired the first batter in each of the first three innings on one pitch apiece.
”We’ve always seen him good. He’s one of the better ones in the game,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said. ”He carved us up pretty good tonight.”
But the Red Sox led only 1-0 before scoring four runs in the seventh.
”In the seventh we were able to bunch some hits together, which was kind of elusive,” Boston manager John Farrell said.
Boston continued to waste numerous opportunities. It left runners on base in each of the first seven innings after stranding runners in all nine innings of Thursday night’s 5-3 win over the Minnesota Twins.
They scored in the second against Ramon Ortiz (0-1) when Daniel Nava walked, took third on a single by Saltalamacchia and scored when shortstop Izturis fielded Middlebrooks’ grounder but his throw to start a potential inning-ending double play eluded second baseman Mark DeRosa.
The Red Sox finally built a comfortable lead in the seventh.
Singles by Ellsbury and Shane Victorino put runners at first and second and they moved up on a wild pitch by Brett Cecil. Dustin Pedroia singled in a run, but the next two batters struck out. Then Saltalamacchia doubled in two runs and Middlebrooks drove in another with his second double of the game.
Friday’s outing was the fourth time Lester allowed just one hit while pitching at least seven innings — and the third time against Toronto.
The other two were over eight innings in a 1-0 win in Boston on April 29, 2008, and seven innings in a 2-0 win at Toronto on April 28, 2010. He also did it against Kansas City in eight innings of a 1-0 win on July 18, 2006.
Then there was the no-hitter in his first full season when he relied on veteran catcher Jason Varitek to tell him what to throw.
”I feel like back then (I was) such a thrower, not really a pitcher. I think the best way to put it is, effectively wild for my no-hitter,” Lester said. ”Now, obviously going through this a couple of times and (I’m) a little bit more mature and understanding what I’m trying to do.”
And that made his catcher’s job simpler.
”My job was easy. I put the glove there and he hit it,” Saltalamacchia said. ”I don’t think whoever we were facing could have hit him.”
The last Red Sox pitcher to allow one runner in a complete game was Josh Beckett in a one-hitter at Tampa Bay on June 15, 2011. … Toronto designated hitter Rajai Davis left the game with a left oblique strain. Lind pinch hit for him in the sixth. … Clay Buchholz (6-0) pitches for Boston against Mark Buehrle (1-2) in the second game of the three-game series Saturday. … Toronto’s six-game winning streak at Fenway ended.