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Lester, Sox can't hold Athletics at bay

Lester, Sox can't hold Athletics at bay
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OAKLAND, Calif. - For all the acclaim about just how good the Red Sox starting rotation could be, it hasn't been all that good so far.

Other than an impeccable Opening Day performance from Josh Beckett, the starters have been eminently fallible, their stats all too mortal. Sure, there have been a couple of passable efforts - Brad Penny's win and Beckett's second start - but the problem lies in the fact that stellar is what is needed.

And that was not what was offered in an 8-2 loss to the Athletics last night, with the ace of 2008 showing himself as far less.

The loss suffered by Jon Lester left the Red Sox tied for the fourth-worst record in Baseball at 2-5. That, of course, means nothing seven games into the season, but it also does not likely sit well with a team whose focus is the World Series.

So the day after Beckett said the Sox have to pitch better, have to play better, have to do everything better, nothing was better.

It was an especially unimpressive performance from a starter who was 5-1 with a 1.41 ERA in nine starts following Sox losses in 2008.

It has been a long time since Lester pitched well, nearly a month, since a spring training win over Cincinnati March 19. Since then, it has been a struggle - against the Rays in a five-inning start in which he gave up five earned runs to open his season, as it was last night in a six-inning start in which he gave up 10 hits and six earned runs.

``I'm sure you guys are getting tired of me saying this, but I don't think I pitched as bad as the line score says,'' Lester said.

In some cases it was inches that made the difference. Dustin Pedroia nearly got out to right field to stab a bloop single from Orlando Cabrera that would have ended the second inning. Jason Bay nearly snagged a double to left field by Jason Giambi that flew just under his glove and bounced back to the wall as he went into a full-on dive, also in the second. Either would have ended the inning without the eventual five-run damage that was done.

Asked if he were frustrated, Lester said, ``Obviously. You bust your [tail] four days to prepare for a start, you go out there and try to execute pitches and you feel like you're executing those pitches and not getting the results you want.

``I'm trying as best I can right now to walk away from this not as frustrated as I could be because of how I thought I threw the ball.''

Though he did demonstrate an impressive pickoff move - earning consecutive outs by picking off Ryan Sweeney and Cabrera one after the other - Lester did not otherwise have an effective method of keeping the A's off the basepaths.

``I think his stuff is there,'' Jason Varitek said. ``I think it's just one or two balls going at somebody. Get him locked in, get us the lead, get a chance to work his way through. They had some balls fall at the right time.

``Jonny's right there, and we're going to rely a lot on Jonny.''

The five-run outburst came in that second inning after two singles had gone for naught in the first. After Jack Cust blasted a homer to center to open the inning, Kurt Suzuki singled to left, and Lester hit Bobby Crosby in the foot with a pitch.

Then came Cabrera's two-run bloop to right, and Giambi's two-run double to left. Add a Matt Holliday single to right and the Sox trailed by four seemingly moments after Kevin Youkilis put them on the board with a homer to open the second.

Even an old shortstop got in on the act. Though Lester was just hitting his teen years when Nomar Garciaparra won Rookie of the Year for the Sox in 1997, that didn't stop the A's third baseman from belting a home that expanded a lead that already seemed far beyond the grasp of the impotent Sox bats.

It was 6-1 at that point, and J.D. Drew's single to left was the only hit for Boston from a player not named Youkilis.

Youkilis, at that point, already had collected a homer and a double. But he was hard-pressed to do much more without the cooperation of his teammates.

After battling two 2008 postseason teams, the Rays and Angels, the Sox got no respite against the A's. Things were no easier in Oakland than they had been in Fenway Park or Angel Stadium.

There was, however, a bit of a resurgence in the sixth, with David Ortiz coming through with a single after Rocco Baldelli had walked and Pedroia had singled (literally) off A's starter Dallas Braden, to score a second run for the Sox . But Youkilis struck out swinging and Drew flew to center field on the first pitch he was offered.

``I think it's more of a keep-the-line-moving mentality,'' manager Terry Francona said. ``We've got to get to that point.

``It's early. Sometimes you try too hard, get impatient, try to be patient and you fall behind in the count and you swing at the first pitch, hit a fly out. We'll just keep battling, keep fighting.''

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: April 14, 2009

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