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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- You've seen it a million times, the part where the cops in the interrogation room exchange meaningful glances, satisfied they will extract a confession, and one of them slides a legal pad across the table to the perp and tells him to write down just how he went bad and why.
Nothing quite as dramatic as that here Tuesday night. For one thing, Boston Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester committed no crime, although back in New England, any Sox failure tends to be regarded as falling somewhere between misdemeanor and capital offense.
For another, a baseball clubhouse makes for a poor imitation of an interrogation room. After Boston's 8-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday night, Lester stood leaning against his locker, dressed neatly in checked shirt and jeans, sunglasses tucked in a pocket, waiting patiently while his inquisitors assembled around him.
|Pitching coach Juan Nieves and catcher David Ross couldn't help Jon Lester, who walked a career-high seven Tuesday night.|
Only then did he plead guilty to falsely impersonating the dominating pitcher he had been through his first nine starts of the season. Even Whitey Bulger's lawyers would have wanted no part in mounting a defense of what took place at Tropicana Field on Tuesday night. Lester issued seven walks, including four in the first inning, when he walked in a run, gave back two leads in the first three innings, threw three pitches that were knocked out of the park and was gone with two out in the fifth.
There would be no tap-dancing from Lester, no appeals for mercy, no sharing the blame with anyone else in the Red Sox clubhouse. And definitely no grab for sympathy. Just unblinking truth, delivered with not even a hint of defensiveness.
"I think the last two or three [starts], I've thrown better than the line score showed," he said. "This one, obviously, is what it is. It was just terrible. I did a terrible job of helping our bullpen out, a terrible job of keeping the ball down in the zone. … The list goes on. It's solely on me."
The Red Sox had used eight pitchers the night before, including Franklin Morales, who was supposed to start Wednesday's series finale. The Sox imported two pitchers -- Jose De La Torre, to aid and abet a wiped-out bullpen, and Alfredo Aceves, who was not on the premises Tuesday but was in town and scheduled to start Wednesday night.
The hope was that Lester would give the Sox at least seven strong innings, sparing the pen as much as possible. In the end, the bullpen was given a reprieve not by Lester but by De La Torre, who gave up a home run to the first batter he faced, Desmond Jennings, but then settled in for the last 3 ⅓ innings, allowing just one more hit the rest of the way.
"Outstanding," manager John Farrell said. "Saved the bullpen. He did exactly what we needed tonight."
As a reward, the Red Sox gave De La Torre a one-way ticket back to Pawtucket to make room on the roster for Aceves, although that move had not been announced officially Tuesday night.
Lester, meanwhile, was left to ponder how he could walk three straight batters with two outs and a runner on first to force in a run in the first inning, give up a two-out home run to Jennings in the second, three two-out hits in the third, a two-out home run by Evan Longoria in the fourth and a two-out, two-run home run by Matt Joyce, the last batter he would face, in the fifth.
"The first inning kind of sums up the whole night," said Lester, whose seven walks on the night matched a career high. "Not able to repeat whatever pitch I made -- fastball, curveball, changeup, cutter -- I just was not able to repeat, whether it be location or the pitch itself. Not good."
No, he said firmly, there is nothing wrong with him physically, even as he has accumulated some scary numbers over a five-game stretch in which he has been charged with three losses and two no-decisions: 46 hits, 18 walks and 23 earned runs in 30 innings, with an ERA of 6.90 in that span.
"I feel great," he said. "I honestly do. I know pitch count has been a thing, but tonight I felt great, maybe the best I did all season. Whether you have nagging stuff, minor stuff, whatever it is, commanding a baseball is simple and I didn't do that."
Of course, it isn't that simple, and yes, even pitchers are prone to slumps. "They're human too," said manager John Farrell, a former pitcher.
But until Tuesday, Lester had fought through the mediocrity to give the Red Sox at least six innings and kept the score close. Neither happened Tuesday night.
"These guys count on me to go out there and throw innings, and I didn't do that tonight," he said. "I flat out didn't get it done.
"I really let the bullpen down, the team down. We needed a big start tonight and I didn't do it. That solely rests on me. I didn't do it."
What to do now?
"Show up tomorrow," he said. "Go to day one, do my stuff, prepare for the next one. That's all I can do. I can't sit here and go into the film room and pound my head against the wall. That does no good. Get back to basics. Strike one. Commanding the strike zone, and that's really it."
He'll try to ride it out, just as he rode out slumps in the past -- and, yes, they happened, even in the good years. The trick is to cut them off at the pass, before they can ruin a season.
That didn't happen in 2012, the very good yielding too often to the unacceptable. Those days looked to be gone in April and May. Now it's up to him to make them disappear in June.