NEW YORK -- For Jon Lester, Saturday's start represented progress and a milestone.
For six innings, the southpaw did exactly what the Red Sox needed in an 8-6 victory over the Yankees -- he kept them in the game and reached 1,000 career strikeouts in the process. And for Lester, six innings represented distance after never throwing more than 4 1/3 in his past three starts. Never mind that four earned runs meant it was not a quality start, all he did was allow one solo homer, a sacrifice fly and what he called "a fly ball to right field" that cleared the short Yankee Stadium fence.
Strike it up
With six strikeouts on Saturday, Jon Lester became the eighth player to strike out 1,000 batters as a member of the Red Sox.
"It's huge," said Lester, who threw 101 pitches and 59 for strikes. "I was downhill the whole game. I threw a lot of really good cutters, some good changeups. You have to look at it objectively as a fly ball to right. It's two runs, but other than that, they squeezed out one run in that [fifth] inning and it's 6-2 instead of 6-4. I'm really happy with how I threw the ball and I'm not going to look at that other stuff."
Lester allowed 21 earned runs -- 11 his last time out against Toronto -- in 12 1/3 combined innings in his past three starts, allowing 25 hits and walking 10. This time he walked two, both in a three-run fifth inning in which Jayson Nix hit a two-run homer to right field. But Lester returned for the sixth inning and retired the side in order, including two of his six strikeouts.
"Jon had what we needed. That's what we were looking for," said manager Bobby Valentine. "Before that [fifth] inning and after that inning, he was perfect. The one inning he let it get away from him a little with the walks, but he kept the ball down in the zone, changed sides of the plate, mixed his pitches. He looked very good."
Lester credited it to a cutter that he said he did not throw any more or less than past starts, he just threw it better. He used it three times for strikeouts, catching Curtis Granderson looking, then getting Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano to swing and miss in the sixth. Cano's strikeout on a 90-mph cutter marked Lester's milestone.
"I was just getting the ball down, locating -- some of the things I've been preaching all along," Lester said. "It carried through the whole game. I'm real, real pleased with how I threw the ball."
Steven Miller is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.