Lester off target in loss to Twins

Lester off target in loss to Twins

MINNEAPOLIS -- As the first visiting pitcher to take the mound at Target Field, Jon Lester was in prime position to play the role of spoiler on Monday afternoon.

Instead, Lester added to the happy mood of Minnesotans, laboring over five innings amid a 5-2 Red Sox loss to the Twins.

While the christening of Target Field was the central theme of the day, Lester's early-season struggles served as a recurring subplot. In his career, Lester is now 2-5 with a 5.08 ERA in March/April.

"I don't think April has anything to do with it," said Lester, who is 0-1 with a 7.20 ERA in his first two starts of '10.

What was it?

"I didn't execute pitches," said Lester. "There was a ball that bounced off two gloves, another one hit a bag and it cost me runs. You can look at it as bad luck, but I don't really look at it that way. I look at it as executing my pitches, and I've got to do a better job."

The power lefty had trouble pounding the strike zone. Of his 107 pitches, 59 were strikes. He gave up nine hits and four runs, walking three and striking out five.

"It looked like, from the very first hitter, he was kind of fighting it," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "He wasn't working ahead in the count -- first-pitch strikes weren't what he normally is. But he didn't pitch into a lot of luck either."

For whatever reason, Lester's worst bounces seem to come early in the year. If he knew why, he would fix it.

"Obviously it's not what I wanted to do. Do I want it to be better? Yeah, I wanted it to be better yesterday," Lester said. "I just have to take the same mind-set that I've been taking, the same work ethic that I've been doing the past four years and just go out and pitch. I sat here last year and said it's going to get better eventually, and I still believe that. I don't think it has anything to do with the month, or the time of year or anything. It's about executing pitches, and I wasn't able to do that today."

Sox in ballpark openers
The Red Sox have been the visiting opponent in the first official game at five Major League ballparks and are 0-5 in those contests.
Year Ballpark Score Starter
2010 Target Field 5-2 Jon Lester
1923 Yankee Stadium 4-1 Howard Ehmke
1911 Griffith Stadium 8-5 Joe Wood
1909 Shibe Park 8-1 Frank Arellanes
1901 Oriole Park 10-6 Win Kellum

The one thing Lester proved in 2008 and last year was that his rough patch can be followed by several months of dominant pitching.

"Well, again, everybody's different, but the good news is that once he kicks it in, he can keep it the whole year," Francona said. "I thought he was fighting himself a little bit, but again, he keeps us in the game. But I think you'll see better results, for sure."

It wasn't a banner day for the Sox offensively either, as they managed just seven hits, and made several hard outs. Carl Pavano became the first pitcher to win a game at Target Field, allowing four hits and one run over six innings. The righty walked one and struck out four, throwing 95 pitches.

Mike Cameron took some of the best swings for Boston, but he hit a drive to left that came inches from being a home run, only to curl foul. In the seventh, Cameron belted a ball to the deepest part of the park, but it was hauled in by center fielder Denard Span.

"I hit it 409 [feet] or whatever it was," said Cameron. "I told them, 'That's all I got.' I don't know what else to tell you. There were a couple of balls that just [died in the wind]. The game of inches got me today."

It didn't take the Twins long to generate their first-run scoring rally in their new park. Span led off the first with a walk and Orlando Hudson followed with a single to left. With two outs, Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel came through with consecutive RBI singles, putting Lester in a quick 2-0 hole.

An inning later, Joe Mauer contributed the first of what will likely turn into many run-scoring hits at Target Field, belting a two-out RBI double to left.

"It looks like he can hit anywhere," said Francona.

"Obviously he didn't bring his best stuff today," said Red Sox catcher Victor Martinez. "He was having trouble commanding the baseball. He was falling behind in the count. Like a lot of things, you fall behind in the count, sooner or later you have to throw a strike and they made him pay. On the other hand, in the game they got some hits that you can't do anything about that. That's baseball and you have to let it go."

The Red Sox got on the board in the fourth, when the slumping David Ortiz belted a double to the wall in left-center that Twins left fielder Delmon Young got a glove on but couldn't hang on to it.

"That was a real good swing," Francona said. "I actually thought he was going to hit the ball out of the ballpark."

Lester gave that run right back in the bottom of the inning, thanks to an infield hit by Mauer that deflected off the second base bag and off Marco Scutaro's glove. It was ruled an RBI hit, and Span scored.

Over the final five innings, the Red Sox never got closer than a three-run deficit. They fell to 3-4 on the season.

"You always come out with the mindset of trying to win every ballgame you can," said Cameron. "We just stumbled a little bit here. But everyone here is a good ballplayer. We'll just try to get on track."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.