Lester masterful as Red Sox slam Oakland
BOSTON - Jon Lester's cutter was off during his pregame bullpen session Saturday, and catcher David Ross was concerned.
Lester, however, wasn't worried at all.
The southpaw struck out a career-high 15 batters and allowed only one hit over eight shutout innings, and left fielder Jonny Gomes hit a grand slam as the Boston Red Sox rolled to a 6-3 victory over the Oakland Athletics.
"It's probably the worst cutter I've thrown in a bullpen in a long time, but I don't take much stock in my bullpens anymore," said Lester, who walked two and recorded the most strikeouts by a Boston pitcher since Pedro Martinez fanned 16 on April 8, 2001.
"You're down there to get loose. I think the biggest thing for me is just getting on the mound and getting that adrenaline going and that tempo of my delivery."
Designated hitter David Ortiz and catcher David Ross also hit home runs for the Red Sox, who won their second straight after dropping both ends of a doubleheader to Tampa Bay on Thursday.
However, this one belonged to Lester.
"I think I've seen every lefty in the game now and for a while," Gomes said. "I saw (Andy) Pettitte and Randy Johnson early on, (Lester), and he's climbing the ladder as top - not only in the league, in the game - but he's getting up there with lefties that have played this game.
"And he's just now scratching the surface on his career. It's not like he's coming down. He's getting ready to take off."
Lester carved up the first-place Athletics, striking out nine of the first 12 batters and retiring 20 of the first 22, allowing only a bloop single to shallow right field by left fielder Craig Gentry leading off the third.
After walking the leadoff batter in the eighth, Lester struck out the next three, setting his career high by fanning Gentry, who had been the only Oakland player not to go down on strikes.
His afternoon came to an end when he got right fielder Josh Reddick looking at his 119th pitch.
"That's as dominant a performance as I've seen from a pitcher in a long time," Ross said.
Manager John Farrell also has seen some dazzling outings from Lester, who pitched a no-hitter in 2008 and went 4-1 with a 1.56 ERA during last year's playoffs to help the Red Sox win the World Series.
This one may rank amongst his best, though.
"He could have pitched against pretty much anybody today, the way he commanded things, but to shut down an offense as strong as theirs has been throughout the course of this year, it adds to it," Farrell said.
Lester attacked every hitter with his four-pitch arsenal, highlighted by his cutter.
"I try to throw every ball as hard as I can for as long as I can," Lester said. "I can't look myself in the mirror after the game knowing that I tried to pace myself. I want to make sure I leave everything out there."
Boston's bullpen nearly ruined his masterpiece.
Chris Capuano faced four batters in the ninth, failing to record an out while giving up an RBI double to shortstop Jed Lowrie that led to a second run on a throwing error by Gomes.
The third run scored on a throwing error by Ross, and Oakland seemed poised to score again with runners on second and third, but closer Koji Uehara struck out first baseman Alberto Callaspo and got pinch-hitter Brandon Moss to fly out to end the game.
"It's easy to just cash it in after you've struck out 15 times in eight innings and hadn't had too many good swings, and you're frustrated and all those things," Oakland manager Bob Melvin said.
"And then to get those kind of at-bats in the ninth inning, it's good. It should help out leading into tomorrow."
Gomes provided Lester all the support he would need in the first.
Tommy Milone (0-3) loaded the bases on a single and two walks before Gomes deposited his first pitch into the seats above the Green Monster.
It was Gomes' fifth career grand slam and the second in as many days for the Red Sox, after Pedroia belted one in Boston's 7-1 win on Friday night.
"I swung at every single pitch I saw today, but they were all strikes," Gomes said. "They came right after me like they do everyone, and it worked out the first at-bat."
Ortiz's sixth home run of the season in the third made it 5-0 and Ross added a solo shot in the fourth.
Milone gave up six runs and six hits over four-plus innings, striking out five and walking four.
NOTES: DH David Ortiz's home run was the 437th of his career and 379th as a member of the Red Sox, tying Dwight Evans for fourth on the club's all-time list. ... Oakland 3B Josh Donaldson was hit by a pitch in the ninth, extending his on-base streak to 25 games. ... LHP John Lester's previous career best was 13 strikeouts on July 24, 2010, in a 5-1 loss to Seattle. ... The Red Sox have hit three grand slams this season. ... LF Jonny Gomes' last grand slam came against Minnesota on May 8, 2013. ... Oakland RHP Sonny Gray (4-1, 1.76) will oppose Boston RHP John Lackey (4-2, 3.83) in the finale of the three-game series Sunday.