Rapid reaction: Rays 3, Sox 2

April, 12, 2011

BOSTON -- Jon Lester turned in his second straight solid seven-inning effort but once again was unable to pick up the win.

Indeed, Tuesday night he wound up saddled with the loss as Boston fell to Tampa Bay 3-2 at Fenway Park.

His downfall began with an 0-and-2 pitch to ex-Sox catcher Kelly Shoppach in the fifth inning with Boston clinging to a 1-0 lead.

Lester was cruising at that point, having retired seven of eight, striking out four in the process.

But he hung an 0-and-2 breaking pitch to Shoppach, who grounded the pitch up the middle and into center field. The inning then quickly unravelled for Lester.

Dan Johnson looped a single to left, and Elliot Johnson, the Rays’ No. 9 hitter, roped a single to left, loading the bases. Then Sam Fuld delivered the tying run on a swinging bunt to charging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who had trouble getting a grip on the ball and threw home too late to get Shoppach.

When nemesis Johnny Damon smacked a two-run single to center, Lester and the Sox suddenly were down 3-1.

Lester left after throwing 109 pitches in seven innings with Boston trailing 3-2. The left-hander, who wound up with a no-decision in his previous start despite seven scoreless innings in Cleveland, gave up seven hits, fanned eight and walked two.

CLUTCH HITTING WOES: The Sox went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position, dropping them to 7-for-52 in that telling statistic over their past four games. Jed Lowrie had the only clutch hit, a two-out RBI double in the sixth. But he also flied out to center with runners at first and second and two outs in the eighth.

PINCH-HITTING WOES: Manager Terry Francona went to his bench for all three batters in the ninth without any luck. Jacoby Ellsbury struck out. J.D. Drew struck out. David Ortiz flied out. Game over.

DAMON DELIVERS AGAIN: Johnny Damon continues to torture the Sox at the plate since leaving Boston after the 2005 season, although Tuesday night he was a bit of a surprise star considering how the game had begun for the Rays’ designated hitter.

In his first two at-bats against Lester, Damon whiffed. He flailed and missed a 2-and-2 breaking ball in the first inning, and he took a fastball for a called strike three in the third.

And in the fifth, with the bases loaded and one out and the score tied at 1-1, Damon was down in the count at 1-and-2. But Damon smacked Lester’s next pitch up the middle for a tie-breaking two-run single.

FIRST ONE COUNTS: Darnell McDonald’s first hit of the season was a no-doubt-about-it home run over the Green Monster in the third for the first run of the game. McDonald had been 0-for-5 this season but was in the lineup in right field in place of Drew because Francona wanted as many right-handed bats in the lineup as possible against Rays left-hander David Price.

ON DECK: John Lackey -- who, while 1-0, sports an ugly 15.58 ERA after two starts -- will square off against the Rays’ James Shields (0-1, 4.73) in Wednesday night’s series finale.



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