The Red Sox have a streak! And not the losing kind! A 6-3 victory Tuesday night over the Atlanta Braves gives them two straight wins, giving them their first winning streak of any length since May 10th and 11th.
While the Red Sox will always feel like they have a good chance at a win with Jon Lester on the mound, it was not actually their top pitcher who carried the team. In fact, Lester's outing bordered on concerning. Up against a fairly weak-hitting Braves team, Lester surrendered a leadoff homer to Jason Heyward, a sign of the struggles that would plague him all night.
It's not that he was bad. Not exactly. He certainly gave the Red Sox a chance to win, going six innings while surrendering three earned runs, but he also wasn't sharp. Lester had difficulty hitting his spots, wasting an unusual number of pitches well outside of the zone and giving up a fair deal of loud contact. He was still able to overpower the Braves when he did find his target, and with a little luck he managed to avoid any serious damage. If the Braves had not had Aaron Harang at bat with the bases loaded and nobody out in the second, leading to a 1-2-3 double play, things might have gotten very ugly. But that's the nature of National League baseball.
Still, on the whole it's not what Red Sox fans want to see from Lester given how bad his last start was. Given Lester's mid-season slump last year, it's hard to ignore the possibility that we could be witnessing warning signs that a repeat is in order.
For tonight, though, it was good enough, mostly because the Red Sox lineup was good enough. The Red Sox did not exactly demolish Aaron Harang, but they certainly made him work, and punished him and the Braves defense for their mistakes. It was a fielding error from Chris Johnson that cost Harang one (if not two) outs in the first, ultimately leading to a Dustin Pedroia sacrifice fly to put the Red Sox on the board first. And while the Red Sox didn't make good on a leadoff single from Grady Sizemore in the second, or a two-out Pedroia single in the third, Sizemore and David Ross produced a pair of line drives in the fourth good for a double, a single, and a second run.
Just as big as getting those two runs off Harang, the Red Sox had built up his pitch count over 100 after six, taking him out of the equation in the seventh. That would prove the decisive inning. Trailing 3-2 with reliever Anthony Varvaro in the game ,the Red Sox got back-to-back ringing singles from Bogaerts and Pedroia, setting up David Ortiz for a big at bat.
Fredi Gonzalez called on a lefty to face Ortiz, and while he didn't hit the ball as hard as his teammates, but he placed his flare well, dropping it by the foul line in left for a game-tying single. This left the Braves with a southpaw facing Jonny Gomes and, while he didn't make them pay the way you might expect Gomes to against a lefty, he did produce an even luckier hit than Ortiz, placing a pop-up between three Braves down the right field line, loading the bases. Grady Sizemore got one run home with a ground ball, and after an intentional walk to David Ross, Jackie Bradley Jr. knocked in both David Ortiz and Jonny Gomes with a ground ball into left field.
From there, it was just a matter of bullpen work for the Red Sox. Craig Breslow and Junichi Tazawa worked around a pair of singles in the seventh, and Andrew Miller cleaned up the eighth after a leadoff walk and lineout from Tazawa with a pair of strikeouts. In came Koji, and 11 pitches later it was over, with the Red Sox finally starting a streak of a different kind.