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Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Jon Lester doesn't get much help

By Gordon Edes
ESPNBoston.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Red Sox bullpen was more tapped out than a keg at a beer league softball game.

Manager Terry Francona didn't have Jonathan Papelbon after three straight appearances, and wanted to stay away from Daniel Bard and Matt Albers, both of whom had pitched in three of the previous four.

Jon Lester
Jon Lester was undone by five walks, the last of which started the Twins' winning rally.

So Francona put the load on the broad shoulders of Jon Lester on Wednesday, all but telling him, "Your game, big boy. Go as deep as you can."

It nearly worked. Fatigue didn't do in Lester. Five walks did, the last a leadoff pass to Joe Mauer in the eighth that Jim Thome, 17 days before his 41st birthday, turned into the go-ahead run with a gap double to left-center.

The Twins added on with two runs against reliever Alfredo Aceves, abetted by a misplay by novice right fielder Mike Aviles, so despite a monster series by David Ortiz (7-for-11, two tape-measure home runs), the Sox had their four-game winning streak snapped by a team that had lost six in a row.

Oh, and the Sox are now just a .500 team when Dustin Pedroia doesn't start. The Sox second baseman missed just his fourth game of the season when Francona gave him Wednesday off, although he did surface as a pinch hitter in the eighth, smoking a ground ball to second baseman Matt Tolbert. The (almost) day off was really the equivalent of two, as the Sox have an off day in Seattle before opening a three-game series against the Mariners on Friday night.

But let the record show the Sox are now a modest 2-2 without the "Muddy Chicken."

Lester, meanwhile, was charged with his second straight defeat and is now 11-6, although he has allowed three runs or fewer in 10 straight starts.

"Just one of those nights you grind it out,'' Lester said, "and usually nights like this the game goes the other way for you. But tonight it didn't.''

It helped that the Twins kept running into outs on the bases, and Lester kept the ball in the infield all night. No fly ball outs, and five hits through seven -- only one, a double by Mauer in the sixth, for extra bases.

Mauer's opposite-field double down the left-field line knocked in a run, the Sox deprived of any chance at a play when a spectator leaned out and touched the ball. Third-base umpire Tim McClelland ruled fan interference -- had the ball entered the stands on its own accord, it would have been a ground-rule double -- and McClelland ruled that the runner on first, Ben Revere, would have scored.

A comment accompanying Rule 3:16 in the Official Baseball Rules reads, in part: "Batter and runners shall be placed where in the umpire's judgment they would have been had the interference not occurred."

But Twins right-hander Nick Blackburn, who'd been as effective as a walleye with a glove in his previous three outings -- 20 hits and 16 runs in 12 1/3 innings over his previous three starts -- held the Sox offense in check for most of the night.

"Blackburn's off-speed stuff was down all night,'' Francona said, "and we rolled over it. He did a good job pitching.''

An unearned run in the seventh delivered by Marco Scutaro's two-out single and Ortiz's second home run in three nights in the eighth left the Sox tied at 2-all heading into the bottom of the eighth. The home run was the first allowed by Glen Perkins this season and the seventh hit off a lefty by Ortiz, who has a team-high 23 overall.

But then Lester walked Mauer to open the bottom of the eighth, normally a signal for Francona to wave in Bard, especially with right-handed hitting Michael Cuddyer at the plate. Francona chose to keep his powder dry, Thome drove a pitch down and away past Carl Crawford in left, and the Twins had a lead that closer Joe Nathan made stand up with the 255th save of his career, setting the Twins' record.

The Sox, who began the night 2 ½ games ahead of the New York Yankees in the AL East, had their lead trimmed to 1 ½ by the Bombers, who beat the Los Angeles Angels. Their biggest lead of the season is three games.

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.