Lester throws a needed counterpunch

PHILADELPHIA -- So, after three days of listening to how great the Phillies' pitching is, Jon Lester offered a cold-blooded response Thursday afternoon, the kind that should resonate if these teams play each other in October.

The Sox best will match your best, pitch for pitch.

The Red Sox left-hander shut out the Phillies on two hits over seven innings, and was at his most stubborn in his final inning, when the Phillies mounted their most serious threat, putting two on with one out. Lester retired Ben Francisco on a fly ball to center field, and then, on his 120th pitch of the afternoon, struck out Raul Ibanez, who had beaten John Lackey the night before with a home run.

Lackey had pitched well and lost, 2-1. Lester, with better support, shut down the Phillies, whose only hits off the left-hander were a fourth-inning single by Chase Utley and seventh-inning single by Ryan Howard, a hit that was followed by a walk to Shane Victorino, bringing the potential tying run to the plate. Daniel Bard was warming up in the bullpen, but Lester kept him there.

"Obviously it's big,'' said Lester, who induced Francisco to bite on a changeup before powering up with a four-seamer, and getting Ibanez to swing over a third-strike cutter. "Those are two big hitters right there.''

Lester walked two and struck out five, but even with a paucity of base-runners, the Phillies made Lester work.

"He didn't have quick innings,'' manager Terry Francona said, "but he made it work. He made big pitches to end the seventh. We needed to find a way to win that game.''

The win was the 10th of the season for Lester, one fewer than Yankees' lefty CC Sabathia, who leads the American League.