Lester struggles, Sox hit All-Star break at .500

Lester struggles, Sox hit All-Star break at .500

Lester struggles, Sox hit All-Star break at .500
BOSTON -- Derek Jeter had plenty of room on the Fenway dirt, positioning himself for a routine first-inning popup in Sunday night's game with the Red Sox.

And he just dropped it. It's something David Ortiz said he never saw in the 175 career games he's played against the Yankees.

Jeter also booted what looked like a routine ground ball and misfired a throw to first base to allow two baserunners reach in the third inning. Mark Teixeira even misplayed a hard-hit grounder. Yet the Yankees still cruised to a 7-3 victory over the Red Sox, who entered the All-Star break at .500 (43-43) and 9 1/2 games behind the first-place Bombers, who took three of four from the Sox to finish the first half with the best record in the Majors (52-33).

"Good teams, they take advantage of mistakes," said Ortiz. "When we are playing well, when we have everyone here, if you make a mistake against us, it'll come back and haunt you.

"We haven't played the Yankees in a while, but I noticed this weekend that you can't make mistakes when you play against them. You make a mistake, they'll make you pay. That's how good teams are."

Aside from maybe the Phillies, there may not be a team, nor a fan base, who could use four days away from baseball more than the Red Sox.

"It can't get no worse," Ortiz said. "I mean, it can get worse. Don't get me wrong, but hopefully it doesn't go that way."

Sunday night was not Boston's night, and Jon Lester struggled to find any momentum before starting their four-day break.

While he got ahead of both Jeter and Curtis Granderson to start the game, working them both to two-strike counts, Lester had a hard time putting hitters away. Jeter and Granderson both singled before a long drive by Teixeira drove in Jeter. Three batters later, Granderson scored on a forceout.

Jayson Nix doubled and scored off another Jeter single in the second, and while Lester worked quickly through the next two innings, he again ran into trouble in the fifth -- allowing a triple to deep center off the bat of Alex Rodriguez and an RBI single by aging outfielder Andruw Jones -- before being removed with just one out.

"Jon had another uphill battle," manager Bobby Valentine said of Lester, who finished his day with 4 1/3 innings pitched, allowing five runs (four earned) on nine hits and two walks. "It's not what he wanted. It's not what we needed."

The staff ace has just two wins in his last nine starts and finished the first half with a 4.49 ERA, the worst first-half ERA of his career. Through 112 1/3 innings, the southpaw has walked 30 batters while collecting 94 strikeouts, his lowest first-half total since 2008, his first full-year as a starter.

"It's a [horrendous] first half," Lester said. "Uncharted water for me. I've just got to keep grinding it out.

"I just think it's a good mental break to get away from it for a couple days, get out of the monotony of the same routine I do every day. It will be good to relax."

Meanwhile, Ivan Nova carved his way through the Red Sox's lineup, which lost Adrian Gonzalez to flu-like symptoms after two innings. Nova struck out 10 batters in six innings, allowing just one earned run, while improving to 10-3 on the season.

The game's only bright spots for the home crowd came from a diving catch by Ryan Sweeney in center field, three more hits from Pedro Ciriaco, who raised his average to .538 with three hits and made an all-out, mid-air catch at second base, and another strong performance from Ortiz, who went 1-for-3 with a double and his team-leading 57th RBI.

Although the Sox enter the break having lost six of their past seven games, reinforcements are on the way.

Jacoby Ellsbury will likely be activated off the disabled list when the Sox open the second half against the Rays on Friday, while Clay Buchholz is slated to pitch Saturday.

Jeter, who said he has no idea how he missed the first-inning pop-fly and that it was the most embarrassing thing you can do as a position player, knows he probably won't get away with mistakes those against the Red Sox again.

"They're always tough," Jeter said. "You play 162 games for a reason. Teams go through rough periods. They've had a lot of injuries. They've got a lot of guys that will be coming back. They're always tough. We won three out of four, but it's not like you're looking forward to playing them, like it's easy or anything. It's a challenge every time you face these guys. I'm sure they'll be fine."

The way this strange season has played out thus far, it may easy to forget: 2012 is far from over.

And the Trade Deadline is still more than three weeks away.

As Carl Crawford reminded reporters before Sunday's game, with the extra Wild Card this season, anything can happen.

Jason Mastrodonato is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.