Jon Lester shuts down Yankees during Red Sox victory
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The Yankees had seen this Jon Lester before, though not for a while.
Not since, at least 2010, when he went 3-0 with a 2.15 ERA against them in four starts.
And it was that version the Yankees got Saturday afternoon as the struggling lefthander had one of the best outings of his season as the Yankees fell to the Red Sox, 4-1, in front of a sellout crowd of 49,466 at the Stadium.
"Tonight you got the best Jon Lester that we've seen in a while," Nick Swisher said.
The effort of Lester (7-10), who won back-to-back starts for the first time since May 14 and 19 by allowing one run and five hits in seven innings, overshadowed a good outing by rookie David Phelps.
The righthander went a career-best 6 2/3 innings, allowing three runs and seven hits. Two of the runs came on Adrian Gonzalez's first-inning homer that gave Boston a 2-0 lead. Phelps (3-4, 2.69) did not walk a batter and struck out seven.
"I thought he did a really good job," Joe Girardi said. "Mixed all his pitches. We were excited about the way he was pitching when he came up."
Lester, who came in 6-10 with a 5.20 ERA this season -- including 0-1 with a 6.97 ERA in two previous starts against the Yankees -- was in control throughout. The one run he allowed came on Curtis Granderson's 32nd home run of the season, a shot to center in the fourth that pulled the Yankees (71-49), still 8-3 in their last 11 games, to 2-1.
"When you look at his numbers, you kind of step back because you know that's not the type of pitcher he is," Swisher said of Lester.
Granderson had two of the Yankees' five hits against Lester, with the still-hot Swisher also getting two of his three hits against Lester.
Robinson Cano went hitless for a fourth straight game, 0-for-4, to give him one hit in his last 23 at-bats. The Yankees were 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position and stranded six.
"It's hard to win a game when you do that; when you have some opportunities and you're not able to score runs," Girardi said. "When you don't do that, you're usually going to lose games."
That's not to say Girardi didn't credit Lester. He did, mentioning, as hitters such as Curtis Granderson did, the return of the dominant cutter characteristic when Lester is at his best.
"It is somewhat surprising," Girardi said of Lester's numbers coming into the game. "It's such a fine line. A couple inches here, a couple inches there and if you don't make those pitches and the guys don't miss it, you can give up some runs pretty quickly. Even when you do make some pitches, you can give up some runs."
That was the case for Phelps in the first as the Red Sox (59-62) took the lead on Gonzalez's two-run homer.
"It was right where I wanted," Phelps said of the 2-and-1 fastball Gonzalez hit. "Down and off the plate."
The Yankees had runners aboard in each of the first three innings but didn't score until the bases were empty, with two outs in the fourth, when Granderson launched his 32nd homer of the season into the netting that covers Monument Park in center.
Phelps could not hold it there as Pedro Ciriaco collected his second of four hits -- he improved to 15-for-29 against the Yankees in his career -- with one out in the fifth and Nick Punto brought him in with a line-drive double into the corner in right.
"I feel like any part of the plate we put it on, he's getting a hit," Phelps said of Ciriaco.
That was plenty for Lester and the three relievers who followed, including former Yankee Alfredo Aceves, who pitched a scoreless ninth for his 25th save.
Under-fire Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine was asked if the combination of a good start by Lester, power from Gonzalez and a strong bullpen effort was closer to what he thought he had at season's start.
"We still have it," he said. "We just haven't used it as often. We saved it up."