Lester gears up for duel with Halladay

Lester gears up for duel with Halladay

TORONTO -- He might not have been an All-Star like fellow Red Sox pitchers Josh Beckett, Tim Wakefield and Jonathan Papelbon, but that doesn't change the fact that Jon Lester has been as dominant as anyone on his team -- and probably just about any pitcher in the game -- over his past eight starts.

The power lefty is now set to open his second half in what should be a riveting duel with Jays ace Roy Halladay.

When last the two pitchers met -- on April 29, 2008 -- it was a night to remember. With Lester firing eight brilliant innings, the Sox produced a walk-off rally against Halladay in the bottom of the ninth inning in a 1-0 win.

"It's going to be a long day with him on the mound, but we're going to battle [offensively]," said Lester. "And I'm going to try to do the same thing and just keep them as close as possible."

Over his eight-start run, Lester is 5-1 with a 1.48 ERA, giving up three or fewer earned runs in each outing.

Lester's 131 strikeouts before the All-Star break were the most by a Boston lefty since 1954.

In his last outing before the break, Lester fired eight shutout innings and struck out eight in a 1-0 win over the Royals. He will have eight days of rest entering this outing.

The Jays know all too well about Lester, as he is 2-0 with a 1.46 ERA in two starts against them this season.

This is the first time Halladay has faced the Red Sox this year. Lifetime against Boston, he is 12-12 with a 4.46 ERA.

Lester has the utmost respect for Halladay.

"His style is a lot different than a lot of pitchers nowadays," said Lester. "He pounds the strike zone with every pitch. He gets a lot of early contact. When he needs a strikeout, he gets a strikeout. He's a complete pitcher, and he's got a lot of pitches that appear to be strikes when they get to home plate, and they kind of just dart whichever way he tries to make them."

Heading into the rubber match of this three-game series, the Red Sox lead the Yankees by two games in the American League East.

Pitching matchup
BOS: LHP Jon Lester (8-6, 3.87 ERA)
Lester enters the second half of the season on a bona fide hot streak. The 25-year-old lefty has allowed three runs or fewer in each of his past eight starts since May 31, yielding one run or fewer in six of those outings. Just 21 strikeouts shy of last year's career-high total of 152, Lester is 3-2 with a 3.25 ERA and a 39-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio in seven career starts against the Blue Jays.

TOR: RHP Roy Halladay (10-3, 2.85 ERA)
Fresh off a start for the AL in the All-Star Game, Halladay returns to the Jays' rotation in search of his first win since June 7. Over his past four starts, including an injury-shortened outing on June 12 that led to a two-week stint on the disabled list with a right groin issue, Doc has gone 0-2 with a 4.30 ERA. Halladay allowed three runs on nine hits with eight strikeouts and no walks over seven innings in a losing effort on July 9 at Tampa Bay.

Tidbits
Third baseman Mike Lowell, who has played in back-to-back games since his return from the disabled list, will get the day off on Sunday. Jed Lowrie will start at third, and Nick Green will play short. ... Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who didn't play the first two games of the series because of a stomach virus, hopes to return on Sunday. ... The Red Sox are 23-10 against AL East opponents. ... Jason Varitek is tied with Dom DiMaggio for ninth place on the club's all-time list in games played (1,399).

Tickets
 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• NESN

On radio
• WRKO 680, SBN 1150 (Español)

Up next
• Monday: Red Sox (John Smoltz, 1-2, 5.40) at Rangers (Kevin Millwood, 8-7, 3.46), 8:05 p.m. ET
• Tuesday: Red Sox (Josh Beckett, 11-3, 3.35) at Rangers (Tommy Hunter, 1-1, 2.35), 8:05 p.m. ET
• Wednesday: Red Sox (Tim Wakefield, 11-3, 4.31) at Rangers (Vicente Padilla, 7-5, 4.67), 8:05 p.m. ET

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