Lester struggles in Sox's loss to Rays

Lester struggles in Red Sox's loss

BOSTON -- For a while on Wednesday night, the Rays chipped away with a patient approach against Jon Lester, fueled by some infield hits and even a safety squeeze. But after a little small ball, Carlos Pena produced one very large hit, a two-run homer to center that silenced Fenway Park in the top of the fifth inning.

On a frigid night, the Red Sox never were able to heat up against Scott Kazmir, the Rays' version of Lester. So after an impressive win on Opening Day, Boston fell, 7-2, to Tampa Bay, setting up a rubber match on Thursday afternoon.

Pena's two-out laser capped a four-run top of the fifth for the Rays, putting the Red Sox in a 5-1 hole they could never dig out of. Lester suffered the loss, giving up eight hits and five runs over five innings, walking two and striking out five.

"We had little things happen," said Boston catcher Jason Varitek. "He was just one pitch from getting out of it, but that pitched ended up making a big difference."

Lester started Pena 3-0, then came back with a fastball for a strike before leaving another heater right in the left-handed masher's wheelhouse. As the ball soared into the seats in center, Lester felt his once-promising performance go up in flames.

"It was pretty deflating," Lester said. "Bad pitch. But I shouldn't have been in that situation, 3-0. I have to throw him the fastball on 3-1. He pretty much knows what's coming. We're not going to [mess] around with him there. We're trying to get out of that inning, and I threw it middle, middle. He did a good job of staying on the ball that time and driving it to center. I was obviously trying at the time to get ahead, but I need to do a better job of throwing strikes there."

Before Pena capped the damage, Lester went through all kinds of annoyance in what wound up a game-breaking four-run fifth inning by Tampa Bay.

Gabe Kapler started it with a walk and then roared to third on a single by Akinori Iwamura. Then came a play that was every bit as key as Pena's homer. Rays manager Joe Maddon called for a bunt, and Jason Bartlett executed perfectly on a safety squeeze that clearly caught the Red Sox off guard.

Lester hurriedly tried to field it and rushed home, even though the only play was to first. Everybody was safe and a run scored.

"It's tough, that's my fault," said Lester. "I thought because [Varitek] backed away, he was going to cover home. I don't know if I could have gotten Bartlett or not. It's a [good] bunt, five feet from home plate. I have to go a long way to make a play there, and it's just bad luck more than anything."

Even after the deficit swelled to 6-1 when reliever Takashi Saito yielded a solo shot to Evan Longoria in the top of the eighth, Boston still threatened a comeback, hoping to create flashbacks from Game 5 of last October's American League Championship Series.

David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis drilled one-out singles and Jason Bay ripped a two-out RBI double. Mike Lowell was hit by a pitch, loading the bases and bringing the tying run to the plate in Jed Lowrie. But there was no magic this time, as Lowrie struck out against Grant Balfour.

"We had our chance," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "We got the tying run up to the plate. You never want to lose, but you always want to at least give yourself a chance."

Kazmir was, at least on this night, better than Lester.

All five K's for Lester occurred in the first two innings, when the lefty looked electric. But the Rays immediately solved him after that. With runners on first and second and none out in the third, Carl Crawford ripped one to first that Youkilis made a nice play on. However, Youkilis, instead of taking the sure out at first, tried for the force at second and his throw sailed into the outfield, allowing the first run of the game to score.

But Youkilis got that run right back in the bottom of the third against Kazmir, smashing an RBI single up the middle to score Dustin Pedroia.

"I think we continued throughout the whole game to try to put together good at-bats," said Varitek. "I think we did that. They were a little better than us today."

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