Lester delivers gem as Sox blank Phils

Lester delivers gem as Sox blank Phils

PHILADELPHIA -- Jon Lester used to have control problems? He used to frequently run his pitch count up, forcing his exit from games in the mid-innings? Whatever happened to that guy?

This 24-year-old left-hander is coming of age, and it is happening fast.

These days, Lester is a picture of pitching precision -- one who puts the Red Sox in position to win basically every time he takes the ball. Lester came through with another big performance on Tuesday night, lifting Boston to a 3-0 victory over the Phillies.

Lester fired seven shutout innings in this one, giving up six hits. He walked one and struck out five, throwing 99 pitches.

"I think his confidence is growing," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "He's commanding the strike zone a lot better, which, with his stuff ... his tempo is quicker, he's working quicker in between pitches. We're seeing a maturing, good young pitcher."

A very compelling argument can be made that Lester has been the most consistent pitcher in the Boston rotation this season. In 16 starts, Lester is 6-3 with a 3.18 ERA.

This was the 10th consecutive start Lester allowed three earned runs or less.

"It seems like every start, things are getting better, walks are going down," said Lester. "I'm more around the zone and have better command of my stuff. I'm able to throw more strikes and have the confidence to throw any pitch at any time."

Very few batters are connecting, not even the power-packed Phillies of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins.

"He was terrific," said Francona. "Especially through the dangerous part of their order. He threw his breaking ball behind in the count, he threw his two-seamer. He made real quality pitches against the guys that can hit the ball out of the ballpark."

Speaking of hitting the ball out of the ballpark, Coco Crisp continued his recent power surge by belting a two-run homer to left in the second against Jamie Moyer, breaking a scoreless tie. Of the five long balls Crisp has hit this season, three have come in the last three games he's played. Crisp will tell you that in this case, location is everything.

"The fields that we're playing in cater more towards the power that I have," said Crisp. "If I was in Fenway with those three, I believe none of them are home runs. We're not there. We're here. You've got to get them in where you can. I've been fortunate enough to get the bat on the ball and knocked it over the fence a few times."

The way Lester was going, he didn't need much more support. He didn't get much more, either. Though Moyer walked five over his five innings, the Red Sox couldn't add to their lead until the Phillies went to their bullpen in the sixth. With Ryan Madson on for the Phillies, Julio Lugo ripped an RBI double to left to make it a 3-0 game.

Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon didn't even seem to break a sweat finishing it off for Lester. Okajima struck out two in the eighth and Papelbon whiffed all three batters he faced in the ninth for save No. 20.

The Red Sox also tied a team record set earlier this season with six stolen bases.

This, however, was very much Lester's night. The 45-year-old Moyer had admiration for the performance of a man nearly half his age.

"He threw the ball well," said Moyer. "It was the first time I've seen him pitch in person. I met him a number of years ago in Seattle. He's from Tacoma. I met him as a senior in high school. He made it here rather quickly. He threw a no-hitter earlier this season. I tip my hat to the guy.

"He's battled through cancer. He's an inspiration and he's getting what he deserves. He's a fine pitcher. If he can keep his health, he's going to have a long career."

Clearly, Lester's confidence has grown in recent weeks.

"He should be confident," said Francona. "He's got a lot of ways to get people out. He feels good about himself. He works hard. He feels good in between starts and he follows it up. He's not dragging. He shouldn't be. He's a big, strong kid and he works hard."

When Lester takes the ball, the Red Sox now expect to win.

"He uses that cutter to his advantage and he's pitched great lately and he's been great for us all year long," said Red Sox first baseman Sean Casey. "He's going to be a member of this rotation for a long time."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.