Even with White Sox starter Jose Quintana muzzling the Red Sox’ lineup for five innings, Jon Lester couldn’t be knocked out of the zone he’s been in for more than a month.
When Quintana sat down the first 15 batters he faced, Lester didn’t look at it as a pitchers’ duel. He just dug in.
Lester went seven innings on Thursday, giving up just one run, but it never seemed like he was in a staredown with Quintana. Eventually, Quintana unraveled, giving up three runs in the sixth inning, and even though Lester didn’t walk away with the win, his performance fueled the Red Sox’ 4-3, extra-inning victory.
“For me, just going out there and just grinding it out, trying to keep my team in the game as best I can and hopefully we can at some point score some runs, and we were able to do that today,” Lester said. “We battled. The other guy was pretty locked in early and they were able to make him work in that sixth and get some runs on the board.”
Keeping the White Sox at bay with his curveball, Lester finished with 12 strikeouts (his 20th career double-digit strikeout game) and for the second straight start (and the third time this season) no walks. It was the highest strikeout total without a walk in Lester’s career, and he became the first Sox starter to finish with at least a dozen strikeouts and no free passes since Pedro Martinez in 2003 against the Twins.
When he was asked which was more gratifying, Lester didn’t hesitate.
“The walks,” he said. “It’s just something that I’ve always tried to improve on throughout my career. Strikeouts are nice, but I’d rather look up there and see no walks any day of the week.”
Over his last six starts, Lester’s ERA is 1.01. For the season, it’s 2.65. But he’s trying not to look at this hot stretch any differently than any other point in the season.
“I just take the ball every five days and pitch, and whatever the outcome may be, it is what it is,” Lester said. “I try to do that every time I take the ball, whether or not I give up five or six runs in five innings or do [what I did] today, the effort is always there. The game planning is always there, the work in between starts is always there. Just right now, I’m executing pitches pretty well.”
With just three games left before the All-Star break, the question is how will John Farrell, the American League manager, handle Lester’s pitching duties in the Midsummer Classic. Last season, the Sox gave Lester extra rest after the break, which led to a strong second half.
But to Lester, it doesn’t matter.
“I just pitch when they tell me to,” Lester said. “Obviously, the break is built in there for a little bit of rest. But whenever they want me to pitch, I’ll run out there and chuck it as many times as John Farrell lets me.”
Even though he’s got plenty of options, from Yu Darvish to Max Scherzer to David Price to Lester, Farrell said he hasn’t decided on who will start the All-Star Game for the AL on Tuesday.
The plan, Farrell said, will be to talk to all the pitchers before making the call.
“I haven’t begun to map out who the starter will be, who will follow who inside of mapping out nine innings,” said Farrell. “It’ll be important to get a sense in talking with every pitcher that’s going to be there when they most recently pitched, what they’re dealing with.”
Farrell said he didn’t anticipate anyone pitching more than one inning.
“So, we’ll map that out as best we can and hopefully get as many players as possible on the field so they can say they that they have played in the game,” Farrell said. “We’re trying to balance winning the game. So there’s a few things that will come into play on all that.”
Conor Gillaspie’s two-run, game-tying blast to right field off closer Koji Uehara in the ninth inning was the sixth home run Uehara has allowed this season, and the fifth he’s given up in day games.
“I wish we could start the games later when he’s going to pitch that night,” Farrell said. “I guess that’s the key.”
Farrell more or less chalked it up to coincidence. What was more telling, he said, was that four of the six homers came against lefthanded batters.
“I know they’ve been mostly against lefties,” Farrell said. “They’ve been able to get a split early in the count and look for something soft, and that was the case with Gillaspie.”
Victorino at Lowell
Shane Victorino began his rehab assignment with Single A Lowell on Thursday, going 0 for 2 with a pair of strikeouts, and Farrell said the plan was for him to play the next four days and see how he responds. Victorino (hamstring) has been on the DL since May 24, but he’s still been a presence in the locker room and the dugout. “We haven’t given him a set of pom-poms yet, but he’s brought energy no matter what team he’s been on,” Farrell said. “And even in the role, unfortunately right now where he’s inactive, he’s still talking to teammates on the bench, he’s still talking the game, he’s still an energetic personality despite being on the DL.” . . . The issue of Farrell snubbing White Sox ace Chris Sale when he made his All-Star picks earlier this week was sorted out in the Final Vote balloting. Sale earned the last spot on the AL squad . . . All three of the Sox’ wins on their 10-game homestand came via walkoffs . . . Stephen Drew broke up Quintana’s perfect game with a leadoff walk in the sixth. He also broke up Cubs righthander Jake Arrieta’s no-hit bid last month with a two-out single in the eighth.Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.