It is rare that, on a day where the Red Sox lineup produced three homers including a grand slam, the spotlight ends up shining somewhere altogether different. But with Jon Lester going up against what has measured up as the league's best offense and producing fifteen strikeouts over eight scoreless innings of work, there is no question who was the star in Saturday's series-clinching win.
There are times when a pitcher is fully on their game, but they miss out on making no-hit history because of a single slip-up. That was not the case for Jon Lester today. From the first out in the first until the end of the eighth, there was nothing remotely hittable about him. The southpaw found his two favorite locations time after time, clustering plenty of pitches around the outside edge, and around the corner down-and-in. When Lester can locate both his fastball and his cutter in those areas, it leaves hitters constantly guessing. When he's also able to snap off a decent curveball, it's just downright unfair. The only hit he allowed was a pop-up to right placed perfectly in between Mike Napoli and Jackie Bradley Jr. It was the kind of single a keyed-in Pedro Martinez could have surrendered to a mediocre college hitter. But for that, we might well be talking about Lester's second career no-hitter.
Thankfully, Red Sox fans were able to enjoy his performance stress-free for most of the game. The Red Sox have been notoriously stingy when its come to run support for their ace, but tonight they got it out of the way early. Dustin Pedroia produced a quintessential leadoff plate appearance, drawing a walk on seven pitches, then headed to second base when Xander Bogaerts hit a line drive over the head of a leaping Jed Lowrie. David Ortiz followed Pedroia's lead by earning his own base on balls, loading the bases with zero outs.
As Boston's most productive hitter to date, Mike Napoli seemed a good candidate to break the game open, but he ended up swinging through a high fastball to give Tommy Milone his first out of the game. The next pitch Milone offered up, however, was a hanging curveball to Jonny Gomes. For the second straight game, the Red Sox watched a ball make its way into the monster seats for a grand slam. And for the second straight game, they never looked back.
Still, while the four runs might have been enough, the Sox did not pass up the opportunity to add another pair of homers to their tally. In the third, David Ortiz swung wildly at two inside pitches to fall behind 0-2 before getting an absolute meatball over the plate and hitting it about as far as he's hit any ball this year, over the bullpen and into the stands for a solo shot. David Ross completed the trio in the bottom of the fourth, matching Jonny Gomes with a Monster shot of his own, if it was only good for the one run.
With Jon Lester mowing through batter after batter, those insurance runs did not seem terribly important. By the end of the eighth, Lester had 15 strikeouts, and the Athletics had managed just three baserunners. The Sox headed to the ninth with a 6-0 lead. There things would get slightly sketchier, with the usually lockdown Chris Capuano allowing three straight hits before hitting Josh Donaldson. With two runs in, Koji Uehara had to be called on to finish the job, getting out of the mess while only allowing one (inherited) run to come in. A bit of an ugly finish to a beautiful game, but a 6-3 victory all the same.