"We just didn't have our offense tonight," said Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine.
After giving up a career-high 11 runs in his last outing at Fenway Park July 22 against Toronto, Lester had his best start in over a month. Still, he lost his fourth straight decision. The Sox fell to 8-14 this year when Lester takes the hill. He's gone six consecutive starts without a victory, the longest single-season stretch of his career.
"I don't feel like I've thrown the ball that well all year, I was just on the short end of the stick," said Lester, who has not won since June 27. "I felt great, I threw the [heck] out of the ball, but the other guy threw better than me."
Lester was the victim of two RBI doubles that barely stayed fair. The latter was on a pitch well outside the strike zone that Ryan Doumit slapped into right field.
The southpaw retired the first six batters he faced before things turned in the third inning. Lester gave up a leadoff single to Brian Dozier, got two outs, and then watched in disgust as Denard Span poked an RBI double down the right-field line. Ben Revere followed with a run-scoring single.
The Twins scored all three runs against Lester with two outs, a problem for the lefty all season.
"If I could explain it I would eliminate it," said Lester, who has 11 quality starts. "I make a good pitch, it's up just a hair and [Doumit] hits a ball perfectly placed down the line. Same thing with Span, I execute my pitch and he hits a ball down the line. I'd rather take a ball in the gap than that, at least I know I made a mistake."
Alfredo Aceves surrendered a two-out, two-run homer to Brian Dozier that hit one of the billboards above the Green Monster in the ninth. The Red Sox had runners in scoring position with two outs on three occasions, but never got a timely hit.
"They got two-out hits and we didn't," Valentine said. "We hit the ball all right with two outs a few times, but didn't find a hole."
On a positive note, Lester had his cutter working. He used it to his advantage, striking out seven in eight innings. Five of those punchouts were on called strikes.
"We've made some adjustments and I've gotten it back," Lester said of his cutter. "I'm back on top of it, throwing it downhill. That's a big pitch for me, so when I'm able to get the bad contact and the swings and misses that I did tonight, there's a lot of positives."
Normally, giving up three runs would be enough for Lester to win. The Red Sox average 4.85 runs per game. But Deduno kept the Sox at bay and Minnesota's bullpen followed suit with three 1-2-3 innings to end the game.
"Our starting pitcher did a heck of a job," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "Coming in and doing what he did in this ballpark was fantastic, and I know his ball-strike ratio wasn't the greatest, but sometimes that works, and as advertised, he's got a great breaking ball, he can snap them off with the best of them."
Over his last two starts, Lester has allowed seven runs in 14 innings with 13 strikeouts. That's a stark improvement over his previous four outings, when he went 0-3 with a 10.42 ERA.
"It's been going in the right direction," Lester said. "I'm happy with that. Obviously, the results still aren't there, but I'm happy with how the ball came out of my hand. A loss is a loss, it still [stinks], but I took a lot of positives from tonight, so I just got to keep building on that."
Lester admitted he couldn't look his teammates in the eyes after his rough outing at home against the Blue Jays. On Thursday, it was the other way around.
"Jon was awesome, he deserved to win," Gonzalez said. "He went out there and did everything we asked for like a true ace should do and it was unfortunate we couldn't score for him."