The Red Sox completed their sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays Sunday afternoon thanks to a big day from Brock Holt, a dominant performance from Jon Lester, and a pair of major league firsts from Garin Cecchini and Alex Hassan.
Jon Lester's last two games have given Red Sox fans with long memories some cause for concern. After all, his awful 2012 is not so far in the past, and it was exactly this time last year that saw the lefty falter so badly. So if Lester's last outing against the Braves wasn't exactly bad, it was also not good enough to completely dispel any fear inspired by his disaster performance against the Jays.
Sunday's start against the Rays, however? More than enough. It's true that the strike zone was wide today, and that Lester thrives in those situations, but even taking that into account there's no discounting how well Lester managed to attack right-handed hitters inside. Lester started off the game with a three-pitch strikeout of Ben Zobrist, and while the next two batters reached, he escaped without damage and, from there, was just about untouchable. It would not be until the fifth inning that the Rays managed another baserunner, with Lester striking out the side in order in the fourth.
Heading into that fourth inning, the Red Sox had failed to put any runs on the board, with the freshly called-up Alex Hassan having struck out with the bases loaded to end the first and extinguish Boston's best threat to that point. Said struggles, along with the aforementioned wide strike zone, inspired enough frustration in Dustin Pedroia that the star second baseman found himself ejected for arguing balls and strikes, bringing Garin Cecchini into the game in his stead.
That was when the Sox would draw first blood. Jonny Gomes led off the inning with a single, and Alex Hassan made up for his earlier strikeout by staying back on a hanging Erik Bedard changeup for the first base hit of his career. David Ross could manage only a fly ball, but both Hassan and Gomes managed to advance, giving the eight and nine hitters a chance to bring in a run with just a sacrifice fly.
Jackie Bradley Jr. didn't manage to bring the run home, but that's because he was busy working a six-pitch walk, leaving it up to Jonathan Herrera. The backup infielder didn't exactly destroy the ball, but he did get it in the air and, with a bad throw from Sean Rodriguez in left, the Red Sox took a 1-0 lead.
That bad throw would prove something of an omen. Just six pitches later, it was Brock Holt lifting a fly ball into the corner down the left field line. Rodriguez started towards it, but slowed up part way and was left making a desperate diving attempt at the end. He came up short, allowing the Red Sox to plate two more runs and take a 3-0 lead.
With Lester pitching as well as he did, completing seven innings with 12 strikeouts and not a run to his name, the Red Sox didn't exactly need any more offense. They did get a little more all-the-same. Just the one additional run, coming in the seventh, courtesy of a Brock Holt walk (his fourth time on base) and Garin Cecchini's first major league hit: a double off the base of the wall in left. One game, two major league debuts, and two hits is a pretty good recipe for a fun baseball game, at least when combined with a win.
The only real trouble the Red Sox faced as the game wound down came in the eighth, when Edward Mujica could not stop throwing the ball two feet to the first-base side of the zone. He managed to get a big ground ball with two on and nobody out, however, which Garin Cecchini fielded smoothly, stepping on third and firing to first to complete a double play that took all the wind out of Tampa Bay's sails. Koji Uehara completed the shutout, and the Red Sox made it seven straight wins.