Both Lester and the Red Sox will attempt to maintain their recent mastery of the Blue Jays when Boston begins a three-game weekend set with the fellow American League East inhabitants tonight at Fenway Park.
Boston has won nine of its 12 previous meetings with Toronto so far this season and took two of three bouts between the divisional foes in Beantown back in May. The Blue Jays are just 4-10 in their last 14 games played at Fenway Park.
Lester has played a big role in that success. The All-Star hurler went 3-1 with an outstanding 1.98 earned run average in four starts against Toronto last season and has come away with a victory in both of his matchups with the Jays in 2010. In those two games, he's yielded a mere two runs and five hits over a combined 13 innings.
The standout lefty turned in one of his most dominant performances of the year in Toronto back on April 28, limiting the Jays to one hit and racking up 11 strikeouts through seven scoreless innings of a 2-0 Boston win.
Lester has been plenty good against other opponents as of late. After enduring a four-start losing streak following the All-Star break, he's bounced back with consecutive victories over two likely playoff participants in the New York Yankees and Texas. The 26-year-old delivered 6 1/3 shutout innings to best the Yankees on August 9, then fired eight scoreless frames versus the Rangers last Saturday to improve his season record to 13-7.
In 11 career starts against Toronto, Lester is 6-3 with a 2.74 ERA.
Boston is in the midst of an important nine-game homestand as it tries to catch both the Yankees and Tampa Bay in the AL East and Wild Card races. The Red Sox enter this evening's play trailing the Rays by 5 1/2 games for the Wild Card lead after dropping a 7-2 decision to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim last night.
Sox starter Josh Beckett (3-3) had kept the Angels off the scoreboard over the game's first five innings, but was roughed up for four runs in the sixth and two more in the seventh before exiting with one out in that frame.
"I think it probably has to do with bad pitches," said Beckett of his poor finish. "You throw pitches in the middle of the plate, you're not going to get swings and misses."
David Ortiz had a solo homer for Boston, which had won the first two tests of the series and is a strong 36-24 at Fenway Park this season.
Toronto comes in off two straight road defeats in Oakland earlier in the week, the most recent a hard-fought 5-4 setback on Wednesday. The Blue Jays scored three times in the top of the ninth to tie the contest, but the A's scored an unearned run in the bottom of the inning to prevail.
Down 4-1 entering the ninth, Toronto loaded the bases with one out before J.P. Arencibia stroked an RBI single to chase Oakland closer Michael Wuertz. Fred Lewis then greeted reliever Jerry Blevins with a base hit to center that brought home two more runs and knot the score.
However, Oakland's Steven Tollefson singled off Casey Janssen (4-1) with one out in the bottom of the ninth, took second on a passed ball by catcher Jose Molina, and crossed the plate on a Cliff Pennington base hit to end the game.
Lewis finished 2-for-4 with three RBI for Toronto, which is 3-3 thus far on a nine-game, three-city road trip. Starting pitcher Marc Rzepczynski lasted only 4 1/3 innings and was reached for three runs while issuing five walks.
Rzepczynski walked the first three batters he faced in the opening inning, allowing the Athletics to score twice without the benefit of a hit.
"You've got to throw strikes," said Toronto manager Cito Gaston. "You can't give teams five outs. You can't give them six outs. In that case, we gave them six outs in the first inning and that's just not good."
Gaston is counting on a better effort from tonight's starter Brett Cecil, although the young lefty failed to come through the last time he took the mound. Against the Angels on Saturday, he was tagged for seven runs and 10 hits -- three of which were homers -- over a forgettable 5 2/3 innings to suffer a loss.
Cecil had been pitching brilliantly prior to that assignment, having compiled a 2-0 mark and an excellent 2.06 ERA during a six-start stretch from July 2- August 6.
The 2007 supplemental first-round draft choice has had his share of trouble when taking on the Red Sox in the past, though. Cecil has lost each of his three career starts against Boston while surrendering a total of 15 runs (13 earned) in 15 innings.
He did pitch very well in his only encounter with Boston this season, however, permitting one run over six innings while being outdueled by Lester at Rogers Centre back on April 28.