Rapid reaction: White Sox 7, Red Sox 3

May, 30, 2011

BOSTON -- Jon Lester struggled with his fastball command all night, and eventually that problem dearly cost the left-hander and the Red Sox, who suffered a 7-3 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Monday night at Fenway Park.

Thanks to the ultimately unrewarded patience of manager Terry Francona, Lester was left in the game despite wildness that catapulted his pitch count into the danger zone in a 3-3 game in the sixth inning.

Lester wasn’t yanked until Alexei Ramirez blooped his 127th pitch over the head of Adrian Gonzalez as the Boston first baseman ran, back to the plate, into shallow right field, unsuccessfully trying to chase down the ball with the bases filled and two outs. The baseball fell so softly to the turf it probably didn’t even dent a blade of grass. But it was a two-run double, putting Chicago on top, 5-3, and prompting Francona to finally lift his ace. Carlos Quentin greeted Dan Wheeler with a single to center, tacking on two more runs to Lester’s line.

So Lester, whose previous high pitch count this season was 114, was charged with seven earned runs on eight hits in only 5 2/3 innings. And while he fanned four, Lester’s erratic command of his fastball and cutter helped produce four walks, two hit batsmen and numerous long counts. Even a pair of double plays behind him couldn’t compensate for his wildness.

Prior to the decisive sixth, Lester had been stung by A.J. Pierzynski’s two-run single in the first (off a thigh-high fastball down the middle) and a crushed solo homer off one of the signs atop the Green Monster by Paul Konerko (fat 93-miles-per-hour fastball) in the third.

While Lester has been winning games -- he entered Monday night’s contest tied for the major-league lead with seven wins -- he has now given up at least four earned runs in four of his last five starts and has not gone more than six innings in any of those appearances.

The scary totals add up to 21 earned runs in 23 innings for the four substandard starts. Ominously, in those 23 innings, Lester has walked 15 and surrendered 32 hits.

The only gem in his last five starts was a three-hit, zero-run, six-inning outing in his previous appearance, a 14-0 rout of the Indians, when Lester had a 7-0 lead to work with before he even threw a pitch.

Deceiving line: In the box score it looks as if Dan Wheeler had a very good outing. He worked 1 1/3 scoreless innings, allowed one hit and whiffed two.

But Wheeler was unable to get the one batter he needed to when he entered in the sixth.

The White Sox had runners at second and third with two outs, having just taken a 5-3 lead. The first batter Wheeler faced, Carlos Quentin, grounded a two-run single up the middle. It wasn’t a particularly hard-hit ball, but it was certainly struck well enough to find its way cleanly up the middle.

The two runs were charged to Lester, not Wheeler. The 5-3 game became a 7-3 game, a much more difficult hole for the Sox.

Wheeler then set down the next four batters he faced, looking sharp in striking out the dangerous Konerko and fanning Brent Lillibridge, but the damage had been done.

Hazardous duty: Fielding ground balls can be difficult enough, but the degree of difficulty goes up when a shattered bat sails in the same direction.

Twice Monday night Boston third baseman Kevin Youkilis had to duck when a piece of a shattered bat came flying his way, each time on a swing by Ramirez.

In the first, a good chunk of the wood helicoptered toward Youkilis, though he was never in danger, and the ball went foul. In the third, a piece of wood splintered off Ramirez’ bat and fluttered in the same direction as his ground ball to Youkilis.

The wood only made it halfway to Youkilis, who maintained his concentration, fielded the ball and threw out Ramirez at first.

Then in the fifth, the Sox’ Jacoby Ellsbury wound up holding just the handle of his bat as the barrel hurtled toward first baseman Konerko after he made contact with a pitch from Jake Peavy. The baseball was pulled foul into the stands, and while Konerko ducked to protect himself, the bat barrel fell about two-thirds of the way down the first-base line before landing on the grass.

The subject of shattered bats was in the forefront last Friday when the barrel of Grady Sizemore’s broken bat grazed the back of the head of Tampa Bay pitcher David Price as it zipped through the mound.



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