There was never any official acknowledgment — relationship status update on Facebook — that Jon Lester and David Ross were an exclusive pitcher-catcher item.
But it felt understood.
Ross was behind the plate for seven of Lester’s first nine starts this season.
A.J. Pierzynski had caught Lester only twice. The first was the Red Sox’ 2-1 Opening Day loss to the Orioles. The other was exactly a month ago, in a rocky 9-3 loss to the Yankees.
But runs have been hard for the Red Sox to sew together lately, and losses were piling up — six straight going into Thursday’s series finale with the Blue Jays, including the first five on this six-game homestand.
Faced with a choice between Lester’s comfort level with Ross and the team’s urgent need for offense, Farrell did the math.
Pierzynski had a .409 lifetime average against Blue Jays starter Mark Buehrle. Ross was 3 for 12.
Farrell went with offense.
“There’s a comfort level between Jon and David Ross, but given where we are offensively in the history that A.J. had against Buehrle coming into this, [we’re] trying to get offense wherever we could,” Farrell said. “I’m not saying that [Lester’s and Pierzynski’s] rapport is not workable, but I think that just the numbers bear out that Jon has had some comfort level, there’s more history with he and David.”
The Sox lost, 7-2, and Lester struggled more in the first two innings than he has at any point this season.
In those two frames, Lester was tagged for seven hits and seven earned runs. Melky Cabrera and Jose Bautista cracked back-to-back home runs in the first on nearly identical pitches.
“The one to Melky wasn’t terrible,” Lester said. “But just coming back and being kind of stubborn there against Bautista after the homer, knowing they’re going to be aggressive, just wasn’t the smartest pitch.”
In the second, Jose Reyes got to Lester for a two-run single, Bautista plated Reyes with a single, Edwin Encarnacion added another RBI single, and Bautista scored on a chopper off the plate by Brett Lawrie that was nearly a double-play ball.
“I’ve got to do a better job in that second inning of minimizing damage and doing a better job of getting these guys back out in the dugout,” Lester said.
Lester couldn’t hide his frustration. When he wanted to get rid of bad baseballs, he one-hopped them to the ballboy. When first baseman Mike Carp tossed him the ball after the Red Sox were a hair late on a double play, Lester snatched the ball with his bare hand.
“It’s not fun going out there giving up a bunch of hits, trying to stop a losing streak, trying to win, just keep guys in the ballgame,” Lester said. “The list goes on and on of things we just flat-out didn’t do today.”
It was a matter of compound frustrations, Farrell said. The Sox were on a losing streak. Lester puts it on his shoulders to be the pitcher who breaks it up.
“There were some pitches I think that were borderline that he didn’t get some calls and I think just the fact of the stretch that we’re in,” the manager said. “He takes it upon himself to be the guy to stop a streak, and when that wasn’t happening, there’s some frustration that everyone’s dealing with.”
Ultimately, Lester toughed out 6⅓ innings, but by the time he settled down it was too late for the Sox.
Only one other start this year had turned out worse for Lester — April 22, when the Yankees reached him for 11 hits and eight runs (three earned) in 4⅔ innings, with Pierzynski behind the plate.
That issue was a sore spot for Pierzynski, who, obviously aware of the reason he was in the lineup as well as the results when paired with Lester, cut off a question that addressed it.
“I’m not answering that question any more,” he said. “It doesn’t matter. You guys keep bringing that up, but Jon and I had the first [start] Opening Day, we did well together. Then today was just one of those days things didn’t work out. It had nothing to do with me catching. You guys can say that all you want. But it had nothing to do with that.”
Offense came in barely-there flares for the Sox. Jonny Gomes got them on the board with an RBI single in the first, and Xander Bogaerts smacked a 1-and-2 fastball over the Wall in the second. But otherwise Buehrle kept the Sox on a short leash (five strikeouts, seven hits, two earned runs) over his seven innings.
“We’re in a stretch of games here where we’re giving up too many runs early and we’re scuffling to score runs,” Farrell said. “That’s a dangerous combination right now.”
The Blue Jays, who started the day tied with the Yankees for the AL East lead, have won eight of their last 10, and while the division is still mostly shoulder-to-shoulder, the Sox sit five games out of first and six games below .500.
“These guys have been around the block a few times,” Lester said. “We’ve all been through stuff like this. Guys are showing up every day busting their butt. We all have a plan, we all try to go execute that plan. We’re just not doing it right now. We’re just not getting it done.”