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Closing Time: Jon Lester takes step back as Red Sox drop series finale to Orioles, 3-2

08.29.13 at 10:32 pm ET
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Barring a completely disastrous outing Thursday night at Fenway ParkJon Lester entered the contest against the Orioles poised to make August the best month of his up-and-down 2013 campaign.

And while it didn’€™t quite qualify as ‘€œcompletely disastrous,’€ it was far from pretty, and even further from what the left-hander looked like in his last four starts of the month, when he allowed a total of four earned runs in 29 innings for a 1.24 ERA and 1.03 WHIP.

Lester grinded through six long innings in a 3-2 loss to Baltimore as the Red Sox failed to capitalize on an opportunity to sweep a team that is within striking distance of its lead in the American League East, while also missing out on a chance to extend its lead over the second-place Rays, who fell to the Angels earlier in the day. The Sox are 2.5 games ahead of Tampa Bay and 6.5 ahead of the Orioles.

For his part, Lester got away with what looks like a serviceable line at first glance: three runs on five hits and three walks while striking out four. in six innings But he set the Orioles down in order just once in the first five innings ‘€” and even then, the second inning required 17 pitches ‘€” and struggled to find the strike zone consistently, missing on more than 40 percent of his pitches. A number of Lester’€™s 18 outs were loud flies to the outfield, including one that sent Shane Victorino galloping onto the warning track to rob Matt Wieters of extra bases to end the top of the third.

“I don’€™t really think it was a bad outing,” Lester said. “Obviously a loss is a loss, but when it was said and done, I don’€™t think it was a negative outing.”

Manager John Farrell concurred, saying he thought Lester had “good stuff,” as he has all month, but battled control issues that inflated his pitch count and ended his night earlier than either party would have preferred.

“What it did was cut his night short, in which the last couple times out it’€™s been eight, it’€™s been seven innings,” Farrell said. “He’€™s been on a good run here. [The O's] fouled a number of pitches off. He pulled some pitches out of the strike zone, ran the pitch count up.”

Lester, not unhappy with his performance overall, acknowledged he had command issues.

“Just being able to command strike one, let alone the first two or three pitches, I didn’€™t do a very good job of that tonight,” Lester said. “I found a way to minimize damage, keep it close enough where we felt like they could have a chance.”

Still, August represents significant progress for Lester, who had a 4.52 ERA at the beginning of the month and has worked it down to 3.99. In six starts, only one of which lasted fewer than six innings, Lester compiled a 2.97 ERA and 1.25 WHIP. He struck out exactly twice as many batters as he walked ‘€” a 26-to-13 ratio ‘€” and allowed two or fewer earned runs on four occasions.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

David Ortiz‘€™ miserable slump, which Farrell insisted before the game is not related to the designated hitter’€™s back trouble last week, continued. He finished 0-for-4 with two strikeouts to extend his hitless streak to 0-for-22 dating back to Aug. 19 in San Francisco.

Ortiz was visibly frustrated after his second at-bat in particular. He flew out to left field to end the third, and before the ball even landed in Nate McClouth‘€™s, Ortiz turned away from the plate and tossed his bat. In the eighth, with Jacoby Ellsbury on third base as the would-be tying run, Ortiz swung and missed at three straight fastballs from left-hander Brian Matusz to end the Sox’ threat.

The drought is among the worst in Ortiz’€™ 17-year major league career. An 0-for-27 skid constituted his big league time from the end of the 1998 season through the beginning of 2000, and an 0-for-23 run is his career long since joining the Sox in 2003. This rut marks the first time in his big league career that he has gone hitless in six straight starts.

“We’€™re not thinking about sitting him,” Farrell said, late adding, “But he’€™s proven that he’€™s human. As strong and productive as his year has been, it’€™s not uncommon for guys to go through a stretch in which he’€™s in.”

— Right-hander Chris Tillman has historically pitched well against the Red Sox, entering Thursday with a 2.08 ERA in 43 1/3 career innings against them, and this time around was no different. He limited Boston to two runs on six hits in seven innings, striking out eight and walking none in the process.

Tillman seemingly became more effective as his night went on. After the Sox closed the gap to 3-2, he set down nine of the last 10 batters he faced.

“He creates some deception in his delivery,” Farrell said. “That overhand delivery, balls at the top of the strike zone look hittable to hitters, and yet because they’€™re at the top of the zone, it seems like he throws a fastball right through a hitter’€™s loop.

“He compliments it with a good top-to-bottom curveball, so out of the hand it looks like the same pitch, similar spin, but big separation in velocity and particularly depth to the curve ball.”

Tillman has now pitched in four wins against the Sox this season alone. He has allowed four earned runs in 25 1/3 innings.

— A threesome of righties ‘€” Dustin Pedroia, Jonny Gomes and Will Middlebrooks ‘€” finished a combined 0-for-11 with three strikeouts and seven men left on base. Gomes was forced into action when Mike Carp was a late scratch with a sore left shoulder.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

— Victorino remained hot. His 12th homer of the season and third of the series ‘€” another screaming liner over the Monster ‘€” highlighted his 2-for-4 night. The three-game series against the Orioles treated him well: 6-for-11 with three homers and nine RBIs. He is hitting .318 with a .972 OPS in August.

— The organization has maintained a unified voice regarding its starting shortstop situation in recent weeks, including when Farrell said Tuesday, ‘€œI’€™m not going to turn away from Stephen Drew.’€

Drew has rewarded that faith. He went 1-for-3 with an RBI Thursday, his two-out single to right plating Daniel Nava for what at the time was a 1-0 lead for the home team.

Since Xander Bogaerts‘€™ promotion last week, which prompted some to doubt the team’€™s confidence in the incumbent Drew (particularly against left-handed hurlers), Drew is hitting .280 (7-for-25) with a .520 slugging percentage, four extra-base hits and five RBIs in eight games.

— Righty Brandon Workman got into a game for the first time in a week and a half. He showed some rust by walking three, but he finished 1 2/3 scoreless innings with a strikeout of Adam Jones. Lefty Craig Breslow got the last out in the ninth to bail Workman out.

Read More: David Ortiz, John Farrell, Jon Lester, Shane Victorino
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