Then, after Victor Martinez gave the Red Sox the lead in the bottom of the fourth with his 18th homer, the Blue Jays again loaded the bases for the American League MVP candidate. Bautista obliged Lester again by grounding to Yamaico Navarro at third. Navarro stepped on the bag to force out McCoy and the Red Sox still led, 1-0.
"Obviously, his stats speak for themselves," Lester said. "He's obviously a dangerous threat. You don't want him coming up twice with the bases loaded, but I think the first at-bat kind of set up the whole game. We were able to mix a whole lot of pitches in and not let him sit in one area and I think that set up his later at-bats. I was able to make some pitches and get out of those jams."
"He put up a lot of zeroes," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "His stuff wasn't quite as explosive maybe as we've seen, and he got himself into a couple of situations where he walked a few guys to get to Bautista, but he really made some good pitches."
Still, Francona did not have a comfortable feeling in the third and fifth innings after Bautista launched his 48th and 49th homers on Friday and Saturday, respectively.
"It's not a real good feeling when he [Bautista] comes up with men on and it happened twice," Francona added. "But [Lester] made good pitches and he put up a lot of zeroes. He stayed in charge of the game and gave us some time to figure out Marcum a little. His changeup was so good early, you could even see some our guys sitting on it. Guys were really having a hard time staying back. Third time through, we finally started getting some production there."
Francona's counterpart, Jays skipper Cito Gaston, has become accustomed to watching Bautista make opposing pitchers pay. Not Lester and not on this day. And afterward, all Gaston could do was tip his cap to the Red Sox lefty.
"Normally, Bautista would certainly respond in that situation," Gaston said. "He had a couple of times, but Lester made some good pitches on him. We knew he was going to be tough today and he was tough."
Lester, who helped the Red Sox trim the Yankees' American League East lead to seven games and cut the Rays' Wild Card lead to 6 1/2 games, walked four on the day and knew all along he would have to battle.
"Some ups and downs," Lester said. "At times, I battled myself a little bit. But I made some adjustments and made some pitches when I had to and got out of some big jams."
And as if taking a huge exhale, the Red Sox bats responded in the bottom half of the inning. J.D. Drew connected for a long two-run homer over Boston's bullpen in right for his 19th of the season, capping a five-run outburst as the Sox built their six-run cushion. It was smooth sailing for Lester and the Red Sox from there.
In what could have been his final home start this season, Lester (18-8) allowed just four hits and struck out four while scattering four walks to move within two wins of becoming the first Red Sox lefty to win 20 games since Mel Parnell in 1953.
Lester threw 112 pitches, 68 strikes, over his seven innings and lowered his ERA to 3.06. He is scheduled to start Saturday at Yankee Stadium and the following Thursday at Chicago and will need wins in both to reach the 20-win plateau.
"It was just one of those days," Gaston said. "Once they got some guys on, they did a good job of getting some hits to score some runs. We had some opportunities early, but it was one of those days where we didn't come through. Lester did a good job as well of limiting. Once we got guys on, he pretty much shut the door on us."
The Red Sox won the game without Adrian Beltre and Marco Scutaro. Beltre had his sore left wrist examined on Sunday morning at Massachusetts General Hospital and the decision was made to rest the player who leads the Red Sox in games played (144) this season.
"He was checked out over at Mass General," Francona said. "He got an MRI, a CT scan, X-rays. He got a clean bill of health and he'll probably play [Monday against the Orioles]."
Scutaro, second on the list with 142, got a routine day off.