"That was one of the signs that something was going down," said slugger David Ortiz, who was activated from the disabled list before the game. "When you get to be taken out of the lineup it's for protection. But there's nothing done yet, we've got to wait until [Saturday]."
It was just another episode in a wild season for the 2012 Red Sox.
Lester pulled up lame after his third pitch of the eighth inning. He reached for his left hamstring and signaled for the Red Sox trainer. He was removed in favor of right-hander Vicente Padilla.
"I'm fine, it just cramped up on me," Lester said. "I'd been kind of battling with it a little bit since the fifth inning. It got a little worse as the game went on."
Pedro Ciriaco gave the Red Sox a lift at the top of the lineup with a two-run double in the seventh to give Boston a lead it would not relinquish. He added a single, a run and a stolen base.
"This was a two-strike battling hit off the bat, but we'll take it," manager Bobby Valentine said. "Pedro is playing very, very well at a very high level."
But the biggest boost came from Ortiz, who returned to the lineup after missing 35 games with a strained right Achilles tendon. The Red Sox went 13-22 without him.
The Fenway faithful greeted Ortiz with a standing ovation as he walked to the batter's box with two on and one out in the first inning. The slugger promptly laced the first pitch he saw from Royals starter Bruce Chen up the middle for a two-run single.
Ortiz scorched a double in his second at-bat, also on the first offering from Chen. Ortiz picked up right where he left off before the injury and extended his hit streak to 12 games. He did that without seeing live pitching in over a month.
"I was standing there on deck going, 'Geez.' It's like riding a bike, come in and hit two missiles right off the barrel," outfielder Cody Ross said. "He's a pretty special player."
Lester, who entered the game with a 2-8 record and 6.83 ERA at home, worked around a leadoff single before retiring the next six batters. He served up a solo home run to Eric Hosmer on the first pitch of the third inning. Later in the frame, Alex Gordon added an RBI double to tie the game at 2.
Other than that, Lester (8-10) dominated to pick up his third straight win and first at Fenway Park since June 27. He is 6-2 in his career against the Royals.
"He was the sharpest that I've seen him," catcher Ryan Lavarnway said. "That was the best that his stuff has been and he pitched like he meant it and that was great to see."
The Royals loaded the bases with one out in the fourth, but managed just one run against Lester on an infield hit. He allowed three runs on six hits in seven-plus innings with six strikeouts against one walk.
After struggling through the first four months of the season, Lester is 3-0 with a 3.12 ERA in August.
"Now I'm just winning, and winning cures everything," Lester said. "I've been feeling good with the adjustments we've made and how we've made adjustments as far as my pitch selection and coming after guys. I feel like I was headed in the right direction five, six starts ago. I've got to keep plugging away."
The Red Sox chased Chen in the seventh after he walked Mauro Gomez to lead off the inning. Mike Aviles singled against Kelvin Herrera. Scott Podsednik moved the runners over with a sacrifice bunt to set up Ciriaco's clutch double.
"It was tough," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "The leadoff walk in the seventh and then two 0-2 hits did us in."
Andrew Bailey picked up his first save as a member of the Red Sox. He got one out in the eighth inning and returned for a 1-2-3 ninth.
"I could see the fire in his eyes as soon as he stepped on the mound," Lavarnway said. "That's contagious."
Bailey, who was the closer in Oakland for three seasons, had not pitched the ninth inning this year before Friday. He missed 116 games while recovering from right thumb surgery and was a middle reliever since debuting with the Sox on Aug. 14.
"I'm comfortable in that role, and from here on out whatever they want to do is fine by me," Bailey said.