Having squandered two golden opportunities to gain ground in the playoff chase, the Boston Red Sox turn to ace Jon Lester as they try to avoid a third consecutive loss.
It won't be easy against the powerful Texas Rangers, who hope to harness the momentum from a dramatic comeback victory as the teams continue their three-game series Saturday night in Arlington.The Red Sox (66-51) would be within two games of slumping Tampa Bay in the wild-card race if they could have avoided late meltdowns in each of their last two contests. Instead, they remain four games behind.Going for a fourth consecutive victory Thursday, Boston blew a three-run lead in the ninth inning of a 6-5 loss at Toronto. The club squandered an even bigger advantage Friday at Texas, losing an early 8-2 lead and wasting five home runs -- including three in a row in the fourth inning -- in a 10-9, 11-inning defeat.Nelson Cruz's game-ending homer -- on the first pitch from knuckleballer Tim Wakefield -- capped the Rangers' biggest comeback win of the season and extended their AL West lead to 8 1/2 games over Los Angeles."Nellie is a great athlete. He can get it done anytime," Texas outfielder Josh Hamilton said. "It's seems when the pressure's on, he thrives in these situations. I'd love to see him play in the playoffs."Cruz has gone 21 for 40 (.525) with 11 RBIs in his last 10 games against the Red Sox.Texas (66-48) has won 12 of 17 against Boston, getting contributions from throughout its lineup Friday. Hamilton increased his major league-leading average to .362 with four hits -- including a home run -- while rookie Mitch Moreland hit his first major league homer.Lester (12-7, 2.94 ERA) will try to cool off the Rangers and build on Monday's stellar outing at Yankee Stadium, where he pitched 6 1/3 shutout innings to lead Boston to a 2-1 victory."I thought he was tremendous," manager Terry Francona said. "He pitched well with men on base. He made pitches down and had movement. He was great."The left-hander snapped the longest losing streak of his career. A 4-2 loss to the Rangers at Fenway Park on July 18 was the first of four consecutive defeats for Lester.Texas' Colby Lewis (9-8, 3.37) has dropped his last three decisions since beating the Red Sox on July 16, but the right-hander's biggest problem lately has been run support.The Rangers have scored a total of four runs in his last four starts, with Lewis going 0-3 despite a 3.12 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 26 innings. He limited Oakland to one run in six innings Sunday, but Texas' bullpen blew a lead in a 3-2 defeat."It seemed like they had runners in scoring position every inning," Lewis said. "I threw too many pitches, allowed too many baserunners to go deep in the game."Lewis has also struggled with efficiency in both of his 2010 starts against the Red Sox, matching a season low by completing five innings each time before departing with more than 100 pitches.The right-hander will face a Boston lineup without leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury, who left Friday's game with a sore left side. Broken ribs in that area have already cost Ellsbury 95 games this year, and he'll have the injury reexamined."Unfortunately, he managed to fall right in front of the same spot," Francona said. "It's very concerning."