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Jon Lester: ‘The only thing that could have been better was we win’

03.31.14 at 9:20 pm ET
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BALTIMORE — Monday marked Jon Lester‘s fourth career Opening Day start. It was also his best, even if it concluded with him absorbing the defeat in the Red Sox‘ 2-1 loss to the Orioles.

His previous Opening Day starts had ranged from ugly (2011: 5 1/3 innings, 6 hits, 5 runs, 4 walks, no strikeouts) to solid if not dominant (2012: 7 innings, 6 hits, 1 run, 3 walks, 4 strikeouts) to powerful but inefficient (2013: 5 innings, 5 hits, 2 runs, 2 walks, 7 strikeouts). Though he had never before been charged with a loss in the first game of the season, his 2014 effort exceeded all of those.

The left-hander dominated the Orioles lineup for much of the afternoon. Though he was touched for a run in the second when he issued a leadoff walk to Nelson Cruz, who advanced to third on a Matt Wieters single and scored on a double play grounder, that was the only Orioles baserunner who advanced as far as second base against Lester through the first six innings.

However, with the Red Sox unable to capitalize on any of their numerous opportunities with runners in scoring position, a solo homer by Cruz — a career-long nemesis of Lester — on a first-pitch 91 mph fastball on the inner half of the plate to lead off the seventh inning was enough to give the Orioles a victory. (Cruz, in 27 career plate appearances against Lester, now possesses a staggering .458/.519/1.000 line with three homers.)

Even so, for most of the afternoon, Lester looked very much like the hurler who anchored the Sox over the second half and through October last year. He largely dominated — especially through innings three through six — with a precisely located fastball (which mostly sat around 92-93 mph though it touched a tick or two higher on occasion) and cutter, mixing in just enough changeups and curveballs to keep the Orioles unbalanced. He sailed through seven efficient innings, requiring just 104 pitches (73 strikes) while giving up six hits (all but Cruz’s homer were singles), one walk and punching out eight.

“The only thing that could have been better was we win. Other than that I thought I threw the ball really well,” said Lester. “I felt good, felt pretty good from the start. Missing a little bit the first couple of innings. Really the only thing that hurt me was the leadoff walk in the second. Other than that, gave up a bunch of singles, a solo homer — I like my chances.”

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