Baseball

Jays' bats can't handle Red Sox's Lester

Boston lefty Jon Lester had his way with the Blue Jays on Sunday as his Red Sox defeated Toronto 8-2 to avoid being swept in the three-game series at the Rogers Centre.

Boston lefty Jon Lester had his way with the Blue Jays on Sunday as his Red Sox defeated Toronto 8-2 to avoid being swept in their three-game series at the Rogers Centre.

Lester pitched six strong innings, striking out a career-high 12 Toronto batters on the way to his fourth win of the season, and the Red Sox offence exploded for four home runs.

"You kind of wonder how a guy like that comes into the game with a six ERA with the kind of stuff that he has," Toronto's Vernon Wells said of Lester, who lowered his earned run average to 5.65. "When he's on, it's difficult and when you see the kind of numbers he put up against us, especially with the strikeouts, it was impressive."

Toronto (29-24) saw starter Ricky Romero struggle on the mound for the second straight game. The rookie lasted only four innings, walking five and surrendering five hits, two home runs and five earned runs.

For the Red Sox (29-22), first-baseman Kevin Youkilis hit two home runs, both solo shots, in four at bats, while teammate Dustin Pedroia, last year's American League MVP, was 1-for-4 with a three-run dinger.

Jason Bay of Trail, B.C., rounded out the Red Sox's dominance at the plate with a 2-for-3 day in the batter's box, including a home run.

Jays outfielder Alex Rios hit a solo shot for Toronto.

Sunday marked Blue Jays pitcher Scott Richmond's first stint as a reliever. The North Vancouver native came in for Romero in the fifth inning and allowed a hit and a walk in two innings of work.

Toronto second-baseman Aaron Hill couldn't keep his hitting streak going, as he went 0-for-3, ending the run at 13 straight games.

But he wasn't the only Blue Jays hitter who had trouble against the Red Sox pitching staff.

How dominant was Boston's Lester (4-5) on Sunday? Only one ball was hit to the outfield in his six innings pitched, as the three hits he allowed were all infield singles.

Thanks to Lester and relievers Justin Masterson and Ramon Ramirez, Toronto couldn't advance a runner to second base from the third inning onward.

"It started with Lester," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "He was powerful."

Romero struggles

On the other side of things, it was a different story.

Romero (2-2) struggled from the get-go and continued to have trouble until manager Cito Gaston pulled him out of the ballgame in the fifth inning.

"I just couldn't get ahead," Romero said. "I just didn't have a feel for my two-seamer — that's been my problem the past two games.

"My front side is jumping ahead which is causing my fastball to stay up. My two-seamer, I'm just cutting everything right now. We just have to back to work and continue to do what got me here."

Romero gave up a home run to Youkilis in the first with a 2-1 slider. The ball went over the wall in right-centre field to give the Red Sox a 1-0 lead in the top of the inning.

The Jays tied it in the latter half of the first on a sacrifice fly by Wells, driving in Marco Scutaro from third.

But each of the next three innings would see Boston runners get into scoring position.

In the second, there was a runner on first and second with two out before Boston's Nick Green was caught in a run-down between first and second to end the threat.

In the third, more trouble. Again, there were runners at first and second with two outs, but Romero struck out Mike Lowell to escape.

It didn't work out so well in the fourth. David Ortiz started things off with a double. Then Romero walked Jason Varitek, and Jacoby Ellsbury advanced the two runners with a sacrifice bunt.

That's when Pedroia stepped to the plate.

Corner shot

He lined a 2-1 slider to left field, and the ball had just enough juice to sneak over the wall in the corner for a three-run shot, his second this season. The homer gave Boston a 4-1 lead and the Red Sox never looked back.

In the fifth, Romero walked Youkilis and Bay before Gaston pulled him for Richmond.

The Red Sox scored three more in the eighth inning. Green scored on a J.D. Drew sacrifice fly, then Jays reliever Brian Wolfe gave up two home runs on two pitches, watching Youkilis and then Bay take him deep to left field.

Youkilis hit his eighth and ninth home runs this year, while Bay now has 15.

Rios hit a solo shot, his sixth, in the bottom half of the eighth for the Blue Jays.

Toronto can take solace in the fact that the team took two of three from the Red Sox after many had written the Jays off following their nine-game losing streak on the road.

Total attendance for the weekend series tallied at around 98,000.

In the American League East, Toronto sits in third, one game back of second-place Boston and 1½ games behind New York for the division lead. The loss broke the Jays' six-game home winning streak.

Monday marks a day off for Toronto, before the Blue Jays begin a three-game set against the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday. Toronto ace Roy Halladay is expected to get the start against Angels lefty Joe Saunders.