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Lester regains winning formula

Lester regains winning formula
Fenway has always been a hitters' park, but on these April afternoons with the wind blowing off the Atlantic, it can play as big as Yellowstone.

That's the way it was yesterday, although the Red Sox' 2-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles had more to do with Jon Lester's proficiency than the fierce winds that knocked down every ball hit in the air.

Lester turned in his best performance of the young season, giving up four singles in seven scoreless innings to improve to 7-0 in his career against the Orioles.

His work allowed the Sox to win their fourth straight game, even their record at 6-6 and pull into a tie with the Orioles for third place in the American League East, three games behind the Toronto Blue Jays.

Sox fans have been waiting for Lester to return to form after he lost his first two starts while running his ERA to 9.00.

"Previous starts I kept saying I thought I threw the ball better than the linescore indicated," Lester said. "It was nice to go out and throw the ball well again and get the results I wanted. It just reiterates in the back of your mind that, `OK, nothing is wrong. I'm still OK and just move forward.'"

He showed early on yesterday that this game would be different, striking out leadoff hitter Brian Roberts with a 95 mph fastball. He hit 96 mph later in the inning.

The wind might've been strong, but it wasn't adding zip to his heater.

He also had a pretty good cutter and changeup working. He had it all going.

"Making adjustments, I think, was the biggest thing today," Lester said. "I struggled with my curveball early on and just kept not worrying about the result of it and just kept trying to throw it and get a feel for it. And it definitely helped out in some big situations."

Lester struck out the leadoff batter in five straight innings and had a whiff in every frame except the seventh. He finished with nine strikeouts, one fewer than his career high.

Lester allowed just one Oriole to reach third. That came in the seventh when Adam Scott reached on a fielder's choice, took second on a passed ball and advanced to third on a grounder to short.

The only other time he was threatened was the sixth when Robert Andino singled and Roberts walked to start the inning. Lester struck out Felix Pie and Nick Markakis, then got Aubrey Huff on a grounder to short.

Andino and Roberts reached in the same manner in the third, but there were two outs before they did it.

Sox manager Terry Francona knew it was just a matter of time before Lester got going.

"He's such a perfectionist and sometimes there's a fine line in this game where a ball doesn't get caught or goes a couple of inches foul and then something else happens and one thing leads to another," Francona said. "He was really good today. He was good anyway, but it was a good day to pitch."

It wasn't that good of a day to bat, which probably explains why each team had only six hits.

The Sox made the most of theirs, scoring single runs in the second and fifth innings. The formula was the same in both cases, a double, followed by an RBI single.

In the second, it was Kevin Youkilis banging the two-bagger and Mike Lowell bringing him in with a wind-aided blooper to right. Youkilis has seven extra-base hits in his last seven games (4 doubles, 3 homers) and is now hitting .468.

In the fifth, Nick Green pulled a double off the wall and Dustin Pedroia brought him home with a hard single to center.

That was Pedroia's only hit of the day, but he hit the ball hard three times and he feels like he's beginning to get into a groove.

Lester, Ramon Ramirez (scoreless eighth) and Takashi Saito (first Sox save) made that meager offense stand up.

Saito struggled a bit, giving up a run and putting the potential tying run on second with one out. He got Scott on a short fly to right, then ended the game by striking out pinch-hitter Gregg Zaun with a curveball.

The wind didn't seem to affect that one, except for the breeze created by Zaun's swing.

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: April 21, 2009

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