LOS ANGELES -- While the Red Sox wait patiently for Clay Buchholz to return to action within the next couple of weeks, their other front-line starter has conveniently become an ace again.
Jon Lester isn't just giving his team quality outings. Instead, he is turning in masterpieces.
The latest came on Saturday afternoon, when Lester lifted the Red Sox to a 4-2 victory over the red-hot Dodgers.
Over 7 1/3 innings, Lester allowed three hits and a run, walking four and striking out six. In his last seven starts, Lester is 4-1 with a 2.31 ERA.
"He looks great," said second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "He's been good for a while. That's a great lineup. H's throwing the ball well. We're going to rely heavily on him down the stretch and into the playoffs."
However, things got a little precarious after Lester's exit, which came with a runner on first and one out in the eighth.
Yasiel Puig greeted Junichi Tazawa with a single up the middle. After Tazawa struck out Mark Ellis, manager John Farrell called on lefty Craig Breslow to face Adrian Gonzalez. That didn't work out, as Gonzalez belted a two-run double into the gap in left-center, slimming Boston's lead to 4-2. Hanley Ramirez drew a walk.
Not taking any chances from there, Farrell went to closer Koji Uehara, and he ended the eighth by striking out A.J. Ellis.
Uehara, who has been dominant for the Red Sox all year, breezed through the ninth, ending the game when Pedroia made a nice diving stab on a Jerry Hairston grounder.
"It's so hard to see here in day games," said Pedroia. "There are some times the ball is hit and you can't even see it. That one I got a really good jump on and I was able to get it and [Mike Napoli] made a great pick at first. It was good."
The urgency of Farrell to win this one against the hottest team in the Majors was made obvious by the fact this was Uehara's first four-out save of the season.
"Given the momentum they had created, the fourth pitcher of the inning, we needed a big out there, and he got it for us," Farrell said. "Four outs isn't something we've gone to with him too often. And once again in the ninth, he comes out as efficient as he's been any other time he's had a one-inning appearance. So a good day for him, a good day for us, a much-needed win."
After being thoroughly stifled on Friday night, the Red Sox came out swinging in this one. The big first-inning rally was actually started when Shane Victorino was hit by a pitch. Pedroia followed with an infield single. Napoli, making his first start in eight days, lined an RBI single to center.
Then came the big hit, a three-run blast to left off the bat of Jonny Gomes against Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu.
"I was actually just fine throughout the entire inning," said Ryu. "Obviously giving up three runs on one hit is going to kill anybody. The worst mistake I made today was giving up the three-run home run."
In a part-time role, Gomes has been a force for the Red Sox in recent weeks.
"I think I hit that pitch pretty good," said Gomes. "I think it would have gone out of a lot of ballparks. Luckily my ball was the only one that carried out today."
That gave Lester a 4-0 lead before he even threw a pitch.
One thing that worked to Lester's benefit was the lineout double play. Lester got three of those to end innings.
"It was good," said Lester. "For the most part, I was commanding the ball pretty well. I was able to move the fastball around and get some weak contact from a good-hitting lineup."
A couple of eventful things happened for the Red Sox in the top of the ninth.
Xander Bogaerts belted a one-out single to right, his first Major League hit.
"I didn't want to wait any longer, so I'm happy and excited I got the first one out of the way," said Bogaerts. "Hopefully the first of many more."
Jacoby Ellsbury came up next following a pitching change, and he hit a grounder to first. Gonzalez threw to second for the force. And after Ellsbury got to first, he peeled off the base and started toward the dugout.
Hanley Ramirez, who had taken the throw from Gonzalez, came running across the diamond and tagged Ellsbury out for the double play.
Did Ellsbury lose track of the outs?
"For a split second," Ellsbury said. "Either way, I thought I was good. I just turned and peeled off and started walking back and saw Hanley run at me. I still thought I had the base."
Farrell got an explanation from the umpires.
"He abandoned the bag," Farrell said. "I didn't think he was all that far off the bag, but they conferred after the inning was over and agreed upon the call."
However, that was only a mere side story. What was most important to the Red Sox is that they won the game, led by their resurgent ace who is making his late first-half struggles a distant memory.
"I don't think he's reinventing himself right now," said Gomes. "I think he's just getting himself back on track. Like I always say -- there's two people in the American League that won't struggle -- one is the MVP and the other is the Cy Young Award winner. Everyone else is going to have some bumps in the road. Just attribute it to how much of a pro he is to get out of it."