NEW YORK — Jon Lester didn’t allow a run in the first inning against the Yankees, but he paused on his way back to the dugout to have a brief conversation with umpire Lance Barksdale about the boundaries of the strike zone.
The discussion wasn’t argumentative, Lester explained later. It was more of a fact-finding mission.
“For me, naturally the ball is going to cut a little bit. I’m trying to figure if I’m even hitting the plate or not,” Lester said. “I felt like there were some pretty good pitches.”
As he gets older, Lester has found it helpful to speak to umpires instead of glaring at them. But he never quite figured it out on Friday night in a 4-1 loss against New York.
He allowed four runs on six hits with four walks and a hit batter over 6⅓ innings. By the time the lefthander was done, he had thrown only 67 of 116 pitches for strikes.
“I’ll be honest with you: I thought it was a very uneven strike zone tonight. I could understand if there was some frustration,” Sox manager John Farrell said.
It was not necessarily a poor effort for Lester, particularly on the road against a team like the Yankees. But it was part of a downward trend. He was 6-0 with a 2.72 earned run average in his first nine starts but 0-2 with a 6.05 ERA in the three starts since.
Farrell thought Lester did a better job of locating his pitches against the Yankees but conceded, “the numbers are what they are.”
Lester said it’s a matter of getting the ball down in the strike zone. Several of the hits he allowed were on pitches that stayed high.
“I feel at times I’ve thrown the ball really well then at times the ball elevates on me a little bit for whatever reason,” Lester said. “Maybe trying too hard or trying to make a perfect pitch.”
The Yankees had lost five consecutive games, four against the lowly Mets in the Subway Series. But with the first-place Red Sox in town, CC Sabathia was the ace he needed to be. The lefthander pitched into the eighth inning and allowed one run on six hits.
Sabathia (5-4) struck out 10 without a walk for his first win since April 27.
He had been 2-5 with a 6.12 earned run average in his previous eight starts against the Red Sox. That included a loss on Opening Day this season. But he had a better fastball in this meeting and a slider that zipped across the plate.
“He was outstanding. Three pitches for strikes, stayed out of the middle of the plate,” Farrell said. “Any time he was in a fastball count, he could go to his breaking ball or changeup to keep us off stride.”
The Yankees also celebrated the return of first baseman Mark Teixeira from a season-long stint on the disabled list with a wrist injury. He was 0 for 3, but walked and scored New York’s first run.
Kevin Youkilis also returned after missing 30 games with a back injury. He contributed an RBI single against the team he spent parts of nine seasons with before being traded last June.
Sabathia took a four-hit shutout into the seventh inning and had struck out nine to that point.
The Red Sox got going as Dustin Pedroia had his second double of the night and scored on a double to the gap in right by Mike Napoli, who had struck out his first two times up.
Napoli was stranded on second when Stephen Drew struck out and David Ross grounded to second. Drew was 0 for 4 and is now hitting .211.
Mariano Rivera closed out the Sox for his 19th save in 20 chances. But it wasn’t easy. Pedroia (3 for 4) singled with one out for his first career hit against Rivera in 11 at-bats.
“Not too many people get hits off him. He’s pretty tough. It was a 99-hopper up the middle. We’ll take it,” Pedroia said.
David Ortiz then grounded a single into right field. Rivera blew a save against the Mets on Tuesday and now the Red Sox had the tying run at the plate.
This time Rivera struck out Napoli and got Drew on a tapper back to the mound.
Lester walked Teixeira in the second inning before Vernon Wells doubled to the base of the wall in center field on a high changeup.
Jayson Nix singled to left field on a high curveball to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead. Ichiro Suzuki then deftly went the other way for an RBI single to left.
Lester did not put another runner on base until he hit David Adams in the foot with an 0-and-2 curveball. Suzuki followed with a grounder back to the mound. Lester’s throw was wild but Drew snagged it and kept a foot on the base for the force.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi disagreed and was ejected by second base umpire Vic Carapazza. Replays showed that the correct call was made.
Lester then walked Chris Stewart, the No. 9 hitter, and Youkilis singled on a high fastball to left to give the Yankees a 3-0 lead.
“It was a grind,” said Lester, who put two runners on in the seventh inning before Brett Gardner collected an RBI single off Andrew Miller.Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.