Red Sox blank Mariners, 4-0

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SEATTLE (AP)—Seattle is special to Jon Lester, and not just because he’s a local favorite.

It’s where he was during a series in 2006 when he first had his sore back examined, before being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He’s received treatments here during the winter for the rare form of the disease, and doctors in Seattle declared him cancer free before the ’07 season.

Monday, he finally put on a hometown performance that was special, too.

Lester carried a shutout into the eighth inning, struggling Jason Varitek rewarded his manager’s faith with a two-run homer and the road-weary Boston Red Sox beat the Seattle Mariners 4-0.

“Unlike the last couple times here, I didn’t have the distractions or anything,” Lester said after sleeping in his own bed and then completing his fifth start without allowing a run this season, including his no-hitter May 19 against Kansas City.

Before Monday, his ERA in two starts in Seattle was 8.10, his worst against any AL opponent.

Rookie Jed Lowrie hit a two-run single in the eighth and Manny Ramirez, the designated hitter in the absence of David Ortiz, had three singles to extend his hitting streak to 10 games. Boston won for just the third time in 13 road games to remain 1 1/2 games behind first-place Tampa Bay in the AL East.

Seattle, entered the season expecting to compete for its first postseason since 2001, lost for the ninth time in 12 games to tie its season low of 23 games under .500.

Lester (8-3) was born in nearby Tacoma and starred at that city’s Bellarmine Prep high school. He said distractions and expectations may have been part of the reason for pitching poorly here.

“It’s nice to come back home and pitch halfway decent,” he said.

Lester struck out six and walked none in 7 1-3 innings. He allowed eight hits, the final one a hard one-hopper off his right shin. He left the game with a trainer and the bases loaded but did not appear injured while watching from the bench as Jonathan Papelbon got Raul Ibanez to ground into a double play.

“It didn’t really get me too bad,” said Lester, who was wearing a black sleeve over his lower leg but walked without a limp after the game. “It threw me for a loop more than anything. Shouldn’t be an issue.”

Papelbon finished the ninth for his 29th save in 33 chances in Boston’s major league-best 11th shutout. It was Papelbon’s first five-out save of the season.

Pitching for the first time since allowing five runs against Minnesota in his previous start July 8, Lester was constantly ahead in counts and allowed three hits through six innings before Ibanez and Jose Lopez singled in the seventh. But he struck out Miguel Cairo on a looping, 76 mph pitch. He then got Jose Vidro, pinch-hitting for rookie Bryan LaHair, to lunge at a 3-1 pitch for a lazy fly out.

Lester had only three three-ball counts in the game.

He also had manager Terry Francona and a trainer out to the mound when he tugged at the inside of his leg after a pitch in the sixth inning.

A protective cup had painfully pinched a certain area.

“You’ve got to wear them and sometimes they get in the way,” Lester said, with a wry smile.

Francona had to laugh at that—and, for a change, at a game away from Fenway Park.

He said before the game he was annoyed and perplexed by why the AL’s best home team (36-11) was its 11th-best on the road (21-32 entering Monday).

He also said he wouldn’t pinch-hit for Varitek, his gritty mainstay who was batting .114 in his last 26 games.

“I won’t hit for him. We need him. I believe in him. I will always believe in him. When times are tough, you don’t waver from that,” Francona said. “If we want to get where we ultimately want to get, the faith in him will bear itself out.”

Varitek singled sharply in his first at-bat, but Jarrod Washburn kept escaping full counts to keep Boston blanked into the fifth.

Then Washburn (4-9) walked Coco Crisp and a full-count pitch to Varitek was high and on the inside corner. Boston’s captain quickly turned on it and sent it on a line just over the left-field scoreboard for his second home run in 42 games. It was his first home run in 27 career at-bats against Washburn.

“One mistake can hurt you—and that’s what happened today,” Washburn said, calling Varitek “one of the smartest guys in the game.”

The first man to greet Varitek at the top of the dugout was Francona. The manager gave him a high-five and a pat on the shoulder.

“I had a good first two months, then a horrendous month and a half. I mean, some of the toughest time of my career,” Varitek said. “It’s there—I’ve already shown it’s there. I’ve just got to keep stringing it together.”

Washburn allowed seven hits and two runs in 5 2-3 innings—the seventh time in eight starts he had allowed two earned runs or fewer. He has only two wins in that span.

Notes

Varitek has 153 home runs as a catcher, four behind Carlton Fisk for most in Boston history. … Ortiz, out since injuring his wrist May 30, singled twice, walked, and flied out Monday for Double-A Portland. He’s still on track to return Friday.

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