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Lester Strikes Out 12 in Efficient Victory in Seattle

SEATTLE - SEPTEMBER 13: Starting pitcher Jon Lester #31 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field on September 13, 2010 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

The phrase “one bad inning” has often been associated with Red Sox starter Jon Lester. On Monday night at Safeco Field it would as well, but the one bad inning would belong to the Seattle Mariners pitcher FACING Lester, Doug Fister. Fister gave up four of his six hits and three of his five earned runs in the top of the second, and that proved enough for an extremely economic Jon Lester.

Adrian Beltre led off the second inning with a single, moving to third on a Jed Lowrie double. Beltre then scored on a Josh Reddick ground out to put the Red Sox up 1-0. Back to back doubles from Daniel Nava and Lars Anderson followed, pushing the lead to 3-0.

Lester, after giving up an infield single to Chone Figgins in the first, cruised through the middle innings. From the second inning through the sixth, Lester gave up one hit (again to Figgins) and zero walks. He enjoyed four 1-2-3 innings. Lester opened the fourth inning with a strikeout, giving him 200 for the season. Only four other Red Sox have struck out 200 or more in consecutive seasons, and their names include Cy Young and Pedro Martinez. Not bad for a 26-year-old.

Lester finally slowed down in the seventh, giving up a walk and single that put men on first and third with one out. Casey Kotchman then bounced a grounder to the left of the pitcher’s mound. Lester fielded it, but it had bounced so high that Lester had no chance to throw the runner out at home or start a double-play. Rather than risking an error, Lester threw Kotchman out at first, giving the Mariners their one and only run.

The Red Sox got the run back in the next inning. Marco Scutaro, who had made a nifty defensive play in the third inning, fielding a slow-roller to second and underhanding the ball from his glove to the first basemen for the putout, led off with a walk. Two pitches later, Ryan Kalish crushed an 0-1 offering to right field, putting the Red Sox up 5-1. Fister and the Mariners’ relievers pitched perfectly after that, but the damage had been done. The Red Sox beat the Mariners 5-1 in a game that took a brief 2:23 to complete. Lester picked up his 17th win of the season, while Fister picked up his 12th loss.

Red Sox at the Plate

This game was a showcase for the Red Sox farm system. Every RBI came at the hands of someone who had spent time in the Red Sox minor leagues. Lars Anderson hit the first double of his major league career. A minor accomplishment, yes. But when we look at it from the perspective of his performance since his September 1 call-up, we begin to see what Boston’s development personnel have been touting since Anderson joined the team. He could yet be a star for this team, and he might provide an answer a few years from now as to what to do at first base. He also made a nice diving stop in the fifth inning, showing he has definite fielding prowess to complement his hitting ability.

Reddick and Nava, meanwhile, are building major league resumes that might land them major league contracts, either with the Red Sox or elsewhere. Nava has been one of the greater returns-on-investment in Red Sox history. Signed from the Chico Outlaws for $1 and $1,499 more if he made it out of Spring Training, he has proven himself to be a major-league caliber player (though maybe not a starter). Reddick needs a full year in the majors to prove his worth, but I think he can do it.

Ryan Kalish is another Red Sox minor leaguer who, like Nava, picked up his first major league hit in his first at-bat and his first RBI in his first game. The Red Sox have produced two minor leaguers who have hit grand slams in their first years in the majors. Though this has little significance, it has made a few games of an otherwise meaningless season more fun to watch.

Red Sox on the Mound

Had it not been for the seventh, Lester likely would’ve finished the game. However, with a four-run lead and the potential of a 20-win season still a possibility, there was no reason to overuse him. But Tuesday night, Lester was pristine. Every pitch- curveball, slider, cutter, fastball- was on target. Lester struck out 12 batters in eight innings, giving up just three hits and three walks (two of which came in the seventh). Of his 112 pitches, 76 were strikes, good for a 67.8 percent strike ratio. His first pitch strikes were about the same, throwing 20 of 30 first pitches for strikes. He was ahead of the Mariners batters in nearly every at-bat. He worked fast and he threw hard. He overpowered both right-handed and left-handed batters. It was one of his strongest performances of the year, the fourth start in a row in which he struck out 10+ batters. He has shown why the Red Sox gave him a 5-year, $30 million contract extension back in March 2009.

In his one inning of work, Daniel Bard did not allow a run. He lowered his ERA by .03 to 1.86.

The Future Looks Bright

While 2010 will go down as a pointless season, Boston fans are beginning to see a very bright light at the end of the tunnel. The Red Sox have produced a crop of extremely talented young players, and fans will get to enjoy them for many years to come. Whether it’s Lars Anderson at the plate or Jon Lester on the mound, the Red Sox have taken steps to invigorate what was once one of the oldest teams in baseball. Every player who contributed Monday has yet to reach his peak. They will all get better. That is very exciting.

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