Lester's gem sends Red Sox past Orioles
It's about as close as it gets to a sure thing in baseball: Jon Lester and Jonathan Papelbon pitching for Boston against the Baltimore Orioles.
Lester threw seven shutout innings, Papelbon earned a milestone save and the Red Sox extended their dominance of the Orioles with a 4-0 victory Monday night.
Lester is 8-0 with a 2.18 ERA against Baltimore in 10 career starts. The only other pitcher to win his first eight decisions against the Orioles was Todd Stottlemyre (1988-93).
"Maybe their lineup just fits me for some reason, I don't know," Lester said. "I don't pitch any different against them than against any other team, but I'm just fortunate to get some runs early on and that's the biggest thing."
Boston made it easy for Lester by building a 4-0 lead in the fourth inning against rookie Jason Berken (1-5)
Papelbon got the final out with two on to earn his 132nd career save, tying Bob Stanley for the most in Red Sox history. Papelbon has 19 saves this season in 20 opportunities.
Lifetime against Baltimore, he's 20 for 20 with a 0.39 ERA.
Throw in the fact that Boston has won eight straight against the Orioles - including five this season - and it's no wonder the Red Sox ended the night by celebrating their seventh win in nine games.
Lester (7-6) gave up five hits, struck out eight and walked none. He allowed only one runner past first base, but even then the left-hander proved to be overpowering: In the fifth inning, despite yielding a pair of two-out singles, he struck out the side.
Brian Roberts was the last out of the inning, and he threw his bat aside in disgust after being called out by umpire Jerry Layne.
"Jon Lester's pitching a great game, and tip your cap to him. But the strike zone was definitely in his favor tonight. And that's the way it was. That was established early," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "It was a big strike zone and he took advantage of it. I cant wait for the day when we get that in return."
Lester also had a wide variety of pitches going for him.
"We just don't get anything to hit," said Aubrey Huff, who went 0 for 4. "He's got an incredible fastball, a good cutter, a sinker, curveball. When he's on, he's tough."
Batting leadoff for only the second time this season, Boston's J.D. Drew tripled and scored in the first inning, hit a two-run homer in the fourth and singled in the sixth. Needing a double in the eighth inning to become the first Red Sox player since John Valentin (1996) to hit for the cycle, Drew grounded out to second.
"Not a player alive would not be trying to get a double in that situation," Drew said. "I got a ball down and away and swung through it, then I hit a changeup. I was trying to hit a double, but it didn't quite work out."
That was perhaps the only disappointing moment of the night for the Red Sox, who have won 22 of their last 31 games at Camden Yards.
Berken gave up four runs and eight hits, walked two and hit two batters in five innings. The right-hander is winless in six starts since his successful debut against Toronto on May 26.
"Every outing for me is a learning experience," Berken said. "The last thing I am going to do is sit here and feel sorry for myself. It's tough to pitch in the big leagues."
After going 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position over the first three innings, Boston used a three-run fourth to go up 4-0. Jacoby Ellsbury was hit by a pitch, stole second and scored on a single by Jason Varitek before Drew hit a drive into the center-field bleachers.
One out later, Kevin Youkilis hit a drive to center that appeared headed over the wall before Adam Jones reached over the 7-foot barrier to make a leaping grab.
Regardless, the Red Sox already had more than enough runs at that point to secure another win for Lester against the Orioles.
Boston went 3 for 3 in stolen base attempts. Baltimore rookie catcher Matt Wieters has caught only two of 17 runners attempting to steal. ... Baltimore has been blanked four times. ... Lester has allowed three runs or less in his last six starts. ... Boston is 11-3 in its last 14 road games.