ATLANTA (AP)—After a shaky debut, Jon Lester showed why he’s considered one of the Boston’s most touted young players.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that the 22-year-old lefty was facing the free-falling Atlanta Braves.
Lester earned his first major league win with six good innings, Jason Varitek hit a three-run double and the Red Sox snapped a four-game losing streak with a 4-1 victory over the Braves on Friday night.
“You can’t beat it,” the rookie said. “It was a lot of fun.”
Lester (1-0) gave up five hits, walked three and surrendered the lone Atlanta run on a sacrifice fly. Boston’s first pick in the 2002 draft had five strikeouts.
That was an improvement over his debut last weekend, when he lasted 4 1-3 innings against Texas, giving up three runs and five hits with four walks.
“I pounded the zone better with my fastball,” Lester said. “I had better command with everything, and just went right after them and made them hit it.”
Rudy Seanez, Mike Timlin and rookie Jonathan Papelbon finished up for Lester, with each throwing a scoreless inning. Papelbon earned his 21st save in 22 chances and lowered his ERA to 0.27, though he seemed more pleased for Lester than himself.
“He just went out there and laid it on the line,” Papelbon said. “A part of me was hoping that the game would stay right there (at 4-1) so I could be a part of his first big league win.”
While Lester is looking up, the Braves are heading down. The team that has won a record 14 straight division titles lost for the 15th time in 18 games and fell to 30-38 with its fifth straight defeat.
The Braves have not been this far under .500 since the end of the 1990 season, when they wrapped up a last-place finish in the NL West at 65-97. Atlanta began its streak of division titles the following season and had not been more than seven games under .500 since then until Friday’s loss.
The only consolation: The Braves didn’t lose any ground in the NL East, remaining 13 games behind the first-place New York Mets, who lost 6-3 to Baltimore.
Atlanta went down meekly. Only one hitter reached base over the final four innings—Matt Diaz, with a leadoff single in the ninth. He didn’t get any farther.
“There’s no experience in this locker room for a losing team,” Diaz said. “Everybody is wondering when we’re going to come out of this funk, when we’re going to start winning games. I think we’re all trying to do too much.”
Tim Hudson (6-5) allowed only five hits in seven innings, but a streak of wildness in the third was his undoing.
Hudson got a sinker up to Varitek, who doubled off the center-field wall to drive home all three runners and give the Red Sox a 4-0 lead.
“I wish I had back the pitch to Varitek,” Hudson said. “I walked some guys to set the inning up. I didn’t want to give in to those guys. They had the meat of their lineup up, and I had an open base to play with. Obviously, it turned out to hurt me.”
Varitek was glad to give the Red Sox a little cushion against Hudson.
“I ended up getting a mistake,” the catcher said.
The Red Sox jumped ahead in the second, with Varitek chipping in. His single to right put two runners aboard, and Mike Lowell followed with an RBI single to center.
Lester breezed through the first four inning before running into trouble in the fifth. Todd Pratt led off with a single and Hudson moved the runner along with a sacrifice bunt. Marcus Giles followed with a single—the slow-running Pratt holding at third—and Edgar Renteria walked to load the bases.
Chipper Jones drove in Pratt with a sacrifice fly to right, and Lester walked Andruw Jones to load the bases again. But the young pitcher avoided the big inning by getting Jeff Francoeur on a grounder to shortstop.
Lester threw 93 pitches, 54 for strikes.
Braves first baseman Brian Jordan left the game in the top of the fourth after taking a grounder off his right shoulder. He sustained a bruised right shoulder blade and was listed as day to day.
Renteria was loudly booed by thousands of Red Sox fans among the sellout crowd of 51,038, the largest turnout of the season at Turner Field. Clearly, they haven’t forgotten his one disappointing season in Boston before he was traded to the Braves last winter. … The Braves are mired in a 10-for-74 slump with runners in scoring position. … Hudson threw 123 pitches. … Both teams put starting pitchers on the disabled list before the game. Boston RHP Matt Clement is hampered by a strained shoulder, while Atlanta RHP John Thomson developed a severe blister on his right middle finger in his last start.