Lester fans 12 as winning streak reaches seven
Holt stays red-hot with four doubles; Cecchini, Hassan get hits in debut
BOSTON -- Last Sunday, the Red Sox had just lost their 10th game in a row. During that stretch, Boston wasn't pitching well. It wasn't hitting well. And in that loss against the Rays, tempers flared and the benches cleared. Frustration was evident.
What a difference a week can make. Fast-forward seven days and the Red Sox are hitting the ball better and their pitching has been lights-out.
On Sunday afternoon, Jon Lester dominated the Rays, leading the Red Sox to a 4-0 win over their divisional foe and a series sweep. After dropping 10 straight, Boston has won seven in a row and is just two games below .500.
"The cliche holds true here," manager John Farrell said. "Good pitchers, if you don't get to them early, they're going to settle into a rhythm and get stronger as the game goes on. We've seen that a number of times with Jon, today in particular."
The Red Sox tied a big league record for consecutive wins directly after a double-digit slide by winning their seventh straight game. The Tigers won seven in a row from Oct. 1-8, 1989, after losing 12 consecutive, and the Pirates won seven in a row from June 5-13, 1942, after a 10-game slide.
Lester threw seven shutout innings to improve to 6-6 on the season. He allowed four hits, fanned 12 and walked one. At one point, the lefty retired 12 consecutive batters with a string of five consecutive strikeouts toward the back of that stretch. No Rays player reached third base against Lester.
Lester said he's not trying to rack up strikeouts when he pitches, but sometimes, it just works out that way when he executes the way he wants to.
"You have days where your game plan goes right and the balls that you want them to swing and miss at, they're doing it," Lester said. "But to go out there to try and strike guys out, that just gets more pitches and foul balls. And for me, I find myself overdoing things."
Boston, thanks in part to two starts from Lester, has now held its opponent to three runs or fewer in six consecutive games and has allowed just 15 runs during its winning streak.
The Red Sox got all the offense they needed in the fourth when Jonathan Herrera's sacrifice fly scored Jonny Gomes, who singled to start the inning. Brock Holt, making his first career start at first base, then doubled down the left-field line as the ball barely escaped the reach of Sean Rodriguez. Alex Hassan and Jackie Bradley Jr. scored to put Boston up, 3-0.
"Confidence and comfort are a big part of this game," Holt said, "and I'm feeling a lot of both those right now. ... But baseball is a funny game. So you've got to stay humble and hungry, and that's what I'm trying to do."
No. 4 prospect Garin Cecchini came in during the fourth when Dustin Pedroia was ejected and put the Red Sox ahead 4-0 in the seventh with his first career hit in his big league debut. Holt walked and stole second, then Cecchini knocked him in with an opposite-field double off the Green Monster.
Holt, who manager John Farrell has worked out at first and in the outfield to keep his bat in the lineup with Stephen Drew's return imminent, notched four doubles, two RBIs, a run and a stolen base. Holt has been hitting in the leadoff spot for the past 10 games and is batting .337 in 86 at-bats this season.
"He's setting the table for us offensively and has been a big contributor throughout these last seven days," Farrell said.
The Red Sox loaded the bases in the first inning, but Erik Bedard struck out Hassan looking in his first Major League at-bat to keep the game scoreless. Hassan, a Quincy, Mass., native, went 1-for-3 in his debut, while Cecchini went 1-for-2.
"I don't know the last time two Red Sox got their first Major League hits in the same game," Farrell said. "The guys that have come up from Pawtucket ... we're tapping into organizational depth and guys are coming in ready to contribute."
Bedard labored through his 4 2/3, allowing five hits, four walks and three runs with four strikeouts. He fell to 2-4 on the year.
With the loss, the Rays slipped 4 1/2 games back of the fourth-place Red Sox and 10 1/2 games behind the first-place Blue Jays. The calendar just flipped to June, but Rays manager Joe Maddon has his concerns, particularly with the bats.
"You've got to catch them first to catch the next guy and then catch the next guy," Maddon said. "[The Red Sox] are going to continue to play better, too. That's the concern. You just can't let it keep getting farther away. We're just not a consistent offensive team right now."