Friday September 02, 2011 | 12:35 AM

Jon Lester threw 43 pitches in the first inning of Thursday night's game against the New York Yankees, which the Boston Red Sox lost 4-2 (Lester getting a non-decision).

"It wasn't like I was walking the house," Lester said.

Indeed, Lester walked only one batter in the inning (a 9-pitch at-bat by Andruw Jones, that followed a 10-pitch strikeout against Nick Swisher).

Of Lester's 43 pitches in the inning, 14 were fouled off.

"People wonder why we play four-hour games with the Yankees. It's right there in front of you. Every at-bat is a grind," Lester said.

The game lasted 4 hours, 21 minutes.

"There is a reason why our offenses are so good," Lester said. "Both see a lot of pitches and make the pitcher work.

"I thought A.J. (Burnett) threw the ball really well tonight and he went one more out than I did.

"We don't have easy innings. These games matter. We have good hitters up there.

"That's what makes them and us so tough. We both foul off a lot of good pitches. They made we work."

Lester thought he pitched "pretty well." The only ball he wished he located better was the cut fastball that Robinson Cano doubled with, for the only run off Lester.

"The theme tonight was hanging in there and minimizing damage," he said. "Two hard hit balls and 114 pitches later, you get through five (innings)."

As Lester labored through the first inning, manager Terry Francona wondered if a reliever would be needed right away.

"They worked Lester - 43 pitches - almost to the point where we had to get somebody up," Francona said. "Not because of ineffectiveness, but it was a lot of pitches.

"They grinded him out pretty well ... But he only gave up the one (run).

"But you get to your bullpen early. And if somebody makes a mistake, that's what happens."

The mistake was a pitch Daniel Bard left up that Russell Martin stroked for a two-run double in the seventh, taking the lead for good.

Boston loaded the bases in the ninth against Mariano Rivera, but Adrian Gonzalez struck out.

"We gave ourselves a chance," Francona said.

"They are a good team. Our records are almost identical. We'll see the next 5-6 weeks what happens."

There are less than four weeks left in the season, so maybe Francona is referring to the American League Championship Series in October.

Here are the standings

AL East
Boston 83-53
New York 82-53 (0.5 back)
Tampa Bay 74-62 (9)

Wild Card
New York 82-53
Tampa Bay 74-62 (8.5 back)

Boston's magic number to clinch the division: 26. To clinch the wild card: 18.

About this Blog

Kevin Thomas covers baseball and basketball for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. He wisely moved to Maine in 1994 after working for the St. Petersburg Times. He is married to Nancy and they have nine children.

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