PHILADELPHIA - Jason Varitek looked up at reporters after they walked away from Jon Lester and wondered what the fuss was about.
“Did he pitch tonight?” Varitek joked.
By the time this one ended, Lester’s gem seemed like a different game.
Jacoby Ellsbury hit a tiebreaking RBI single in the 13th inning and the Boston Red Sox beat the Philadelphia Phillies 5-2 Friday night in an interleague matchup between division leaders.
Ryan Howard’s solo homer off fill-in closer Ramon Ramirez with one in the ninth tied it, but the Phillies couldn’t pull out their third straight comeback win in extra innings.
Takashi Saito (2-0) got the only batter he faced, Jimmy Rollins, to bounce into a double play to end the 12th. Daniel Bard pitched a scoreless 13th for his first save. He hit two batters to bring the tying run to the plate before fanning Shane Victorino to end it.
Lester was long gone by then. He allowed one run and two hits, striking out 11 in seven innings. The left-hander retired 18 of the last 19 batters he faced.
“Lester was so good,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said.
Jason Bay and pinch-hitter Julio Lugo started Boston’s winning rally with consecutive one-out singles off Kyle Kendrick (0-1). After Kendrick walked Varitek to load the bases, Ellsbury lined a single to right. Nick Green followed with a sacrifice fly and Mike Lowell added an RBI single to make it 5-2.
With Jonathan Papelbon unavailable after saving consecutive wins against the New York Yankees the last two nights, the Red Sox turned to Ramirez to protect a 2-1 lead. Ramirez struck out Jayson Werth before Howard connected, sending a long drive to the seats in right for his 19th homer.
Pinch-hitter Greg Dobbs nearly won it for the Phillies in the 11th, but his long drive to right hooked foul at the last second. Manager Charlie Manuel came out to discuss it, but there was no replay.
“He said he stayed on it all the way and it was foul,” Manuel said, referring to his conversation with first-base umpire Jim Joyce.
Kendrick was called up from Triple-A earlier in the day to replace reliever Scott Eyre, who went on the disabled list with a calf injury. Kendrick won 21 games as a starter over the last two years, but lost a four-man competition for the No. 5 starter’s job in spring training. He unraveled after pitching a perfect inning.
“The pitches were up in the zone,” he said.
J.D. Drew and Kevin Youkilis homered off Phillies starter Joe Blanton, who gave up two runs and five hits in seven innings.
Lester seems to have completely regained his form from last year when he won 16 games, threw a no-hitter on May 19 against Kansas City and was the club’s most reliable postseason pitcher.
Lester allowed 11 runs in his first two starts and 13 in consecutive starts last month. Since then, he’s given up one run four times in five starts. In his last outing, Lester was perfect for 6 1-3 innings before finishing with a two-hit complete game in an 8-1 win over Texas.
“Comfortable, confident,” Lester said.
Drew and Youkilis hit opposite-field homers an inning apart to give the Red Sox a 2-1 lead. Drew was booed each time he came up because Philadelphia fans still can’t forget that he refused to sign with the Phillies after being selected with the second overall pick in the 1997 amateur draft.
Pedro Feliz drove in Philadelphia’s first run on a groundout in the second. Lester was unhittable the rest of the way. He struck out the side swinging in the fourth and fifth, and retired 14 in a row at one point.
Lester is the first Red Sox pitcher to record double-digit strikeouts in three straight starts since Pedro Martinez did it in August 2004. He has 34 in that span.
Notes: Red Sox DH David Ortiz made his first start at first base since the 2007 World Series. Ortiz, who came in hitting just .203, probably won’t be in the lineup against two left-handed starters the rest of the series. Youkilis moved to third and Lowell was on the bench when the game started. ... In his fifth rehab start, Boston’s John Smoltz surrendered four runs and six hits over six innings for Triple-A Pawtucket. Smoltz is returning from shoulder surgery last June. ... The Phillies struck out 20 times.
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