FORT MYERS, Fla. - Jon Lester was so good Sunday, it was almost a waste.
Lester, the leader of the Red Sox staff and the expected Opening Day starter, threw six perfect innings Sunday afternoon at JetBlue Park in a 5-1 win over the Rays. A capacity St. Patrick's Day crowd of 9,626 surely would have liked to have seen Lester go farther after history - he left after 79 pitches and six strikeouts -- but a perfect game in March isn't worth the risk of a hurting arm in April.
"I had a pretty good idea," Lester said when asked if he knew he left after 18 up and 18 down. "I pitched the whole time in the wind-up. ... You got the scoreboard right in your face. It's too hard to miss."
Lester is in line to start Opening Day for the Sox on April 1 in New York, but the lefty said after the game he hasn't been told anything. Manager John Farrell said before the game he had no announcement.
Jonny Gomes went 3-for-3 and drove four of the Sox's runs.
Anthony Carter and Joel Hanrahan kept the perfecto going in the seventh and eighth.
The Sox carried the perfect game all the way until one out in the ninth, when Jason Bourgeois hit an infield single off Marco Duarte. Cole Figueroa then got Tampa Bay on the scoreboard with a ground-rule double to right field.
In 20 Grapefruit League innings spanning five starts, Lester has surrendered just two runs (0.90 ERA) and six hits. With six strikeouts Sunday, he now has 16 this spring. Lester entered the day with just two runs allowed in 14 Grapefruit League innings, and he finished the day with just two runs in 20 innings, an ERA of 0.90.
Right-hander Alex Cobb allowed four runs (three earned) over 5 1/3 innings. He struck out five and walked one.
Up next: Clay Buchholz (2-0) looks to continue his scoreless streak during his fourth outing when the Red Sox face the Pirates at 1:05 p.m. ET on Monday.
Evan Drellich is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @EvanDrellich. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.