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Trip north settles things; Lester utilized Portland stint.

Byline: Phil O'Neill

COLUMN: RED SOX NOTES

BOSTON - Jon Lester said a recent trip to southern Maine - not the beaches, but Hadlock Field in Portland - helped get him in the proper frame of mind and body to help the Red Sox in their stretch drive for the playoffs.

"When I was in Portland, I started to figure some things out consistency-wise and where my body is at and where my arm was," said the left-handed starter, who picked up the win with six innings of two-run ball against the Orioles yesterday.

"I felt really, really good, a lot better than my past couple of starts," he added. "There's not that pressure there (Double-A Portland) like there is here. I was able to go down there and compete and help them out, but the biggest thing was that I was able to help myself get squared away."

Lester made one start for the Sea Dogs, beating Trenton, 5-2, with six innings of one-hit ball on Aug. 27. He was reactivated by Boston yesterday, and he is now unbeaten in his last 10 major-league starts stretching back to Aug. 6, 2006.

"Even before the game started when he came out of the bullpen, our eyes were lighting up because we thought the ball was coming out of his hand better than it has yet this year," manager Terry Francona said.

"He got himself into a couple of spots, but as he's shown in the past, he can get himself out of them, too."

Lowell continues streak

Mike Lowell extended his season-high hitting streak to 15 games with a first-inning RBI single. It's the longest active streak in the majors. He's hitting .482 (27 for 56) during this stretch. Now hitting .329, Lowell is within one game of his career high, a pair of 16-game streaks in 2000 and 2002 with the Marlins.

The third baseman added a sacrifice fly in the fifth and now has 97 RBIs, eight shy of his career high 105 ribbies in 2003. Ninety-six of his RBIs have come while playing third base, most for a Red Sox third sacker since Butch Hobson had 112 in 1977.

Time to rest Gagne

Reliever Eric Gagne, who started so horribly in a Red Sox uniform but had done better lately, has a sore right shoulder.

"His shoulder's a little tender, you won't be seeing him for a couple of days," Francona said, adding that Gagne probably threw too much on the side trying to work his way out of his tough stretch.

No-hitter tidbits

Clay Buchholz's 10-0 no-hitter Saturday night ended the Orioles' distinction of being the only major league team not to be shut out this season. The last no-hitter against the Birds was by Boston's Hideo Nomo on April 4, 2001 at Camden Yards. The last road no-hitter inflicted on Baltimore was June 1, 1975, by the Angels' Nolan Ryan.

Saturday's shutout was Boston's 12th of the season, second most in the majors behind San Diego's 18. The Sox have been shut out six times.

Jason Varitek became the 12th catcher in major league history (since 1900) to catch three no-hitters. Varitek also caught the Nomo no-no and Derek Lowe's in 2002. The only other Red Sox catcher to turn the trick was Bill Carrigan, who caught gems by Smokey Joe Wood in 1911 and Rube Foster and Dutch Leonard in 1916.

Tracking Papi

David Ortiz wasn't walked once during the three-game sweep at the hands of the Yankees in New York when cleanup hitter Manny Ramirez missed almost the entire series, but Ortiz got six free passes against the Orioles, five in the last two games.

Ortiz set a career high with his third stolen base in the fifth inning. Big Papi has only nine career thefts.

Blue Jays up next

Daisuke Matsuzaka (13-11, 3.88) and Jesse Litsch (5-6, 3.40) duel at 7:05 tonight as the Blue Jays invade Fenway Park for a three-game set. It's Josh Beckett (16-6, 3.29) and Roy Halladay (14-6, 3.87) tomorrow night and Curt Schilling (8-6, 4.02) and Shaun Marcum (12-5, 3.75) Wednesday night.

It could be a tough series. The Blue Jays have won three straight. Halladay and Marcum have excellent records, and Litsch beat Boston, 2-1, on July 15 here, scattering nine hits over 6-2/3 innings. The three Boston hurlers were all beaten in their last start in New York.

Diamond Dust

Jonathan Papelbon has worked 10-2/3 scoreless innings with eight saves and 18 strikeouts in his last 11 appearances to lower his ERA to 1.68. ... Dustin Pedroia is hitting .371 in his last eight games to raise his batting average to .324. ... Baltimore pitchers have posted a 9.16 ERA as the Orioles have gone 1-11 in their last 12 games.

NAME: BOSTON RED SOX

ART: PHOTO

CUTLINE: Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester improved to 3-0 with a solid six-inning start.

PHOTOG: THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Sep 3, 2007
Words:826
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Next Article:Bison blanking wins tourney; Three players register goals.


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