The ball left Ryan Raburn’s bat seeking heat on its way down the third base line.
The lone hop it took was huge, and when Brock Holt lunged to get a glove on it, the ball exploded past him on the way to the outfield grass.
Jon Lester had his eyes fixed on the play as soon as he let the pitch go.
He was already mad at himself for bobbling a feed from Mike Napoli and letting Michael Bourn, the Indians’ leadoff batter in the sixth, reach on an error.
He had then watched a ground ball from Jason Kipnis sneak under a diving Dustin Pedroia at second, resulting in two runs and cutting into a 3-0 Red Sox lead.
“Obviously you could see frustration from me,” Lester said.
As scarce as runs had been for the Sox lately, the pitching staff knew it was operating with little wiggle room.
Lester’s reaction made it clear just how tight the space actually was.
When Raburn’s hit blazed by Holt, putting runners at first and second with two outs, Lester tossed his hands in the air and sent a curse word ripping through the ballpark.
“I think that’s where the frustration boils over, is just grinding and grinding and continuing to make pitches and balls are just getting under guys glove or take a weird hop and kind of get up on a guy,” Lester said.
The curse word was aimed at the situation more than anyone in particular. He made sure Holt knew that.
After going 2-7 on the road and sinking nine games behind the first-place Toronto Blue Jays in the division, the Sox were desperate for a win. It was clear Lester was putting that task on his shoulders.
After some relatively stress-free innings (his pitch count was 66 in through five), suddenly Lester was a pitcher on edge in the sixth, and so was his team after the Indians benefitted from an error, a weird hop, and a sneaky bounce.
“I think we’re all frustrated at how things have been going and I show my emotions,” Lester said. “It’s just a continuing thing where you’re just grinding to try to win. Stuff like that happens, it just adds to the pot. For me sometimes, I’ve got to let it out and if I don’t, sometimes it boils over into other bad pitches.”
When the ball worked its way back to him, Lester chucked it at the backstop as if to let it know he never wanted to see it again.
When pitching coach Juan Nieves met him on the mound, Lester was stone-faced.
But two pitches later, he would get Nick Swisher to ground into a force out, keeping the damage to a minimum and preserving the Sox’ lead.
His frustration may have seeped through after the sixth-inning glitches, but when Holt laced a two-run double to left in the bottom of the inning it all but erased the Indians threat and sealed the Sox’ 5-2 win.
Lester settled himself and went 7⅔ innings, giving up eight hits and striking out four.
The frustration was natural, given the Sox circumstances. But getting past it was more important, manager John Farrell said.
“In that inning, the ball’s not bouncing our way,” said Farrell. “They find a couple of seeing-eye ground-ball base hits, there’s some frustration with a number of guys. I think Jon showed it a little bit. We had a chance to talk about it.
“Nonetheless, he came back, gets a big out to shut down that inning. To me, that’s the most important thing. How do you respond and react to situations that are unfolding around him, and he did well by shutting it off.”
Lester was dialed in from the start. He sat down Bourn (strikeout), Asdrubal Cabrera (popup), and Michael Brantley (strikeout) on eight pitches in the first inning.
“That first inning was as good as he can be and he just carried it on from there,” said catcher David Ross.
Lester had an early lead to work with after Napoli reached on a Cabrera throwing error and scored on Grady Sizemore’s ground-rule double.
For the first five innings, Lester didn’t let a runner reach third, and when David Ortiz blasted a 1-and-0 fastball to deep center field in the fifth inning to put the Sox up, 3-0, Lester refused to let the runs go to waste.
“He had some frustration, I think,” Ross said. “It’s one of things, when a team’s struggling and you’re the ace of the staff, you really put a lot of pressure on yourself.
“He puts a lot of pressure on himself. So he’s maturing in that way of being able to control his emotions and focus on the task at hand and get through a good lineup.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.