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Closing Time: Rangers demolish Jon Lester, Mark Melancon in blowout win vs. Red Sox

04.17.12 at 10:38 pm ET
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Jon Lester lasted just two innings on Tuesday, tied for the shortest start of his career. (AP)

It wasn’t quite the worst outing of Jon Lester‘s career, but it wasn’t far from meriting such a title, as the Red Sox had little hope of recovering from his dismal start en route to a 18-3 loss to the Rangers. The left-hander lasted just two-plus innings, matching the shortest start of his career, and he allowed seven runs on eight hits and four walks while striking out two.

The Rangers made him labor in extraordinary fashion, foremost in a four-run, 49-pitch second inning. Overall, he required 80 pitches to record his six outs, becoming just the third major league pitcher since 2000 to make a start of no more than two innings while requiring at least 80 pitches. The last was Chris Young on April 15, 2007.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

– Lester, Lester, Lester. The left-hander was entrusted with a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first only to see the Rangers roar back for four runs in the next half-inning. He’s now been given leads by the Sox just twice in his three starts, but both times, Lester allowed the opposing team to take the lead back in the next half-inning.

On Tuesday, his most significant issue was an ability to Lester put away Rangers hitters once he got ahead of them. He got to two-strike counts on 11 hitters. As a group, the Rangers were 5-for-8 with three walks after getting into two-strike counts, not only keeping the bases filled with runners but also driving up the starter’s pitch count.

Mark Melancon achieved a dubious sort of Red Sox and major league history. He was shelled for six runs without retiring a batter, giving up three home runs, including back-to-back home runs (one an absolute moonshot by Josh Hamilton to right, another a blast to dead center by Adrian Beltre). He tied a major league record (at least dating to 1918) by allowing three homers without recording an out. In just two innings this year spanning four appearances, Melancon has allowed five home runs, matching his total yield in 74 1/3 innings in the entire 2011 season with the Astros.

Melancon has been scored upon in all four of his outings, making him the first Red Sox pitcher ever to give up runs in four consecutive appearances of one inning or less to start his Red Sox career. The six runs he allowed without recording an out are also tied for the most by a Red Sox pitcher since at least 1918.

Melancon’s struggles have been sufficiently extraordinary (of the 18 batters he’s faced this year, he’s retired six) that despite the incredibly early stage of the season, the Red Sox may be in a position where — assuming that he is not injured and in need of a trip to the disabled list — they have to consider extraordinary measures, chiefly, whether to option Melancon to the minors. 

– Rangers slugger Mike Napoli continued to punish the Red Sox like none other. He launched a two-run homer to left-center against Lester, and later launched a two-run blast down the right-field line against Vicente Padilla. Napoli has now crushed 14 homers against Boston in just 129 career regular season plate appearances. No other hitter since 1957 has reached double-digit homers against the Sox in so few at-bats.

Kevin Youkilis, back in the lineup after missing Monday’s game to rest a sore groin, went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts, matching a career high achieved twice previously (most recently on July 29, 2009). Youkilis received some boos after his final two at-bats, a reminder of the idea that he is confronted by more uncertainty and doubt than at any point in his career. He is now hitting .176 with a .443 OPS, and he has 12 strikeouts in 34 at-bats this year.

– Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia went 0-for-3 against his former team, dropping his batting average on the young season to .087 (2-for-23), thus marking the second straight year in which he’s gotten off to a dreadful start.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

Dustin Pedroia has hit the ground running to start the 2012 season. He gave the Sox a brief lead in the bottom of the first inning, jumping on a 1-0 fastball and depositing it just into the Monster Seats. Pedroia has three homers to date this season. Only one other time in his career has he hit as many as three homers in April. (In 2010, he hit six in the season’s first month.)

– Though Scott Atchison allowed all three of the base runners whom he inherited to score, he settled and gave the Sox the innings needed to avoid torching their bullpen. He logged four innings and gave up one run (a Michael Young solo homer) on three hits, striking out three. In 8 2/3 innings this year, Atchison has allowed just two runs with seven strikeouts and two walks.

Ryan Sweeney has not yet homered this year, but he has come within perhaps a foot on two separate occasions, first on Opening Day when he lined a ball off the right-field fence in Comerica Park and again on Tuesday when he rocketed a ball off the top of the center field fence at Fenway. Sweeney had two doubles (one to center, one down the left-field line) and a single on Tuesday and now has five doubles and a triple on the year. Sweeney is tied for second on the Sox in extra-base hits with six.

Adrian Gonzalez went 2-for-4 and launched a homer (his second of the year) to deep right. He has already doubled his home run total (1) from last April.

Read More: Dustin Pedroia, jarrod saltalamacchia, Jon Lester, Kevin Youkilis
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