NEW YORK — Jon Lester thought about the standings and realized the hole the Boston Red Sox are in – 51/2 games behind the New York Yankees in the AL wild-card race with just eight games to play.
Difficult. Unlikely. But not impossible.
Especially with four more games against the Yankees.
“We’ve got a chance,” he said Saturday after taking a no-hit bid into the sixth inning and leading the Red Sox over the fading Yankees 7-3. “Weirder things have happened in baseball.”
Lester (19-9) became the first Boston left-hander in 57 years to win 19 games, overpowering New York in the late-afternoon shadows before Francisco Cervelli singled off the glove of diving rookie Daniel Nava in left field with one out in the sixth.
Lester allowed two hits in seven shutout innings with eight strikeouts and three walks. He won his sixth straight start, extended his scoreless innings streak to 15 and lowered his ERA to 2.96. The only other Red Sox left-handers with 19 wins were Jesse Tannehill (1904-05), Ray Collins (1913-14), Dutch Leonard (1914), Babe Ruth (1916-17), Lefty Grove (1935) and Mel Parnell (1949 and 1953).
“It was so hard to see the first, what, five innings,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “His two-seamer had such good, you know, depth to it, and his cutter. He was explosive.”
While the Red Sox are spurting with eight wins in 12 games, the Yankees are sputtering. New York dropped out of first in the AL East on Friday night and is 11/2 games behind Tampa Bay, slumping to 26-26 since Aug. 1 following a 66-37 start. The Yankees have lost four straight at home for the first time since May 2-7 last year.
Getting outscored 34-16 during the skid, the veteran-stocked Yankees are 10-13 in September- hitting just .256 with a 4.66 ERA. They appear to be tired, and their magic number remained at three, making it impossible to clinch a playoff berth at home.
“We need somebody to go out and shut the door on the other team,” said Alex Rodriguez, whose fifth-inning walk gave the Yankees their first baserunner. “When you’re down five or six runs, it’s hard to play with an edge.”
Lester pitched a no-hitter against Kansas City at Fenway Park on May 19, 2008. Trying to join Cy Young (1904 and 1908) and Dutch Leonard (1916 and 1918) as the only Red Sox to pitch a pair of no-hitters, Lester walked Austin Kearns starting the sixth, and Curtis Granderson’s groundout advanced the runner.
Cervelli then lined a ball to left, and Nava sprinted in. The ball hit off the heel of his glove, bounced off his chest and rolled onto the field for a hit. Thinking the ball might be caught, Kearns held at second. Derek Jeter then stroked a single to left, and Nava threw out Kearns at the plate.
Since losing his first three starts, Lester is 19-6 with 2.49 ERA.
“For whatever reason, it takes him whatever time to get rolling and to kind of repeat his pitches,” Francona said. “Once he gets into that mode, man, he’s like – he’s relentless.”
While the Yankees’ CC Sabathia (20-7) and Seattle’s Felix Hernandez (2.31 ERA) are the top AL Cy Young Award contenders, Lester could get consideration.
“Would it be nice to get a vote, or would it be nice to be recognized for it? Sure. I’m not going to lie to you and say no,” Lester said.
After rookie Ivan Nova (1-1) was knocked out early, J.D. Drew and Victor Martinez hit consecutive home runs in the seventh against Chad Gaudin, bringing loud boos from a sellout crowd.
Granderson hit a two-run homer off reliever Daniel Bard in the eighth, Granderson’s sixth homer in 10 games. Hideki Okajima completed the four-hitter, allowing Rodriguez’s 28th homer of the season and 611th overall.
Nova gave up four runs, four hits and three walks in 4 1-3 innings. Boston took a 3-0 lead in the third when Marco Scutaro and David Ortiz had RBI singles around Drew’s run-scoring, double-play grounder. Ortiz greeted Royce Ring with a run-scoring single in the fifth.
“We’re still in a good spot,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “We have seven games left to play, and our club needs to win three games. If you had said that Feb. 15th, all of us would have signed up for it.”