It was unclear if Lester (1-0, 4.26 ERA) would pitch this year, let alone provide effective outings, after his 2006 rookie season was cut short when he was diagnosed with lymphoma. The 23-year-old left-hander won in his return July 23 with six strong innings in a 6-2 victory at Cleveland, and pitched fairly well at Tampa Bay on Saturday in a 12-6, 12-inning victory.
Lester allowed four runs and six hits with one walk in 6 2-3 innings and left with a 5-4 lead.
“This may not have been as good as the first one or what I wanted, but I’m still happy with it,” he said.
While the bullpen blew a lead for him last time, Boston has a new reliever for this series in Eric Gagne. The former NL Cy Young Award winner made his Red Sox debut in the ninth inning Thursday against Baltimore and struck out the first two batters he faced, but ended up allowing a run before closing out the 7-4 win.
“I envision him pitching a lot of innings of importance,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “I thought it was a good time for his first. This guy’s pitched a lot of games, but it was a nice way to get him in a Red Sox uniform.”
It appears Jonathan Papelbon, who finished off Wednesday’s 5-4 victory, will remain the regular closer even with Gagne being acquired from Texas shortly before the trade deadline Tuesday.
Later that night, Schilling pitched seven shutout innings in his third rehab start for Triple-A Pawtucket. That left the Red Sox ready to bring him back in the rotation after being out more than six weeks with shoulder tendinitis, and he’ll start Sunday in the series finale.
“I answered every question I could answer,” Schilling said. “I’m healthy, I feel good, I feel strong and I’m ready to go back and help them win games.”
Boston has been doing well without him lately, winning 10 of 13 to take an eight-game lead over the second-place New York Yankees into the weekend.
However, the Red Sox now visit a city where they’ve lost their last eight games, and face a pitcher who has won every start he’s made at home this season.
Horacio Ramirez (6-3, 6.52) had never pitched in Seattle before joining the team this year and has won all of his six starts at Safeco Field, posting a 2.63 ERA.
Ramirez hasn’t allowed more than three earned runs in any home start, though he did have five walks in six innings of a 4-3 victory over Oakland on Saturday.
“The difference is, at home, I’m making a pitch in a big situation,” Ramirez told the team’s official Web site.
Ramirez is 0-3 with a 13.72 ERA in five starts away from home. One of those outings came at Boston on May 3, and he avoided taking the loss despite getting ripped for seven runs and 11 hits in four innings of an 8-7 defeat.
Lester did not get a decision in his only career start against the Mariners, giving up five runs in five innings of Boston’s 9-8 loss at Seattle on July 23, 2006.
With a left-hander going for the Red Sox, Richie Sexson is likely to get back in Seattle’s starting lineup. Ben Broussard started at first base Wednesday in place of the right handed-hitting Sexson, who later came into the game to go 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in an 8-7, 12-inning victory over the Los Angeles Angels.
Sexson leads the team with 17 home runs, but has been booed by the home fans recently as his season average has dipped to .198 with a 1-for-17 slump.
“I’m not going to say Richie’s a platoon player, in any stretch of the imagination,” Mariners manager John McLaren said. “But it’s been four months. He needs to get going … we need him to pick it up. He’s disappointed. We’ve had some talks.”
Seattle has won five of six overall, and has taken nine of the last 11 meetings with Boston.