Not only did Mark Buehrle have an unspectacular stat line (8-10, 4.07 ERA) coming into Friday night's start against the Red Sox, but he had also been belted around for 22 hits and 13 runs in his past two starts.
But the Boston bats never saw that Buehrle. Instead, they saw the guy who has long been regarded as one of the best left-handers in the American League.
Buehrle carved up the Red Sox through most of Friday's 5-3 victory.
The Red Sox only wished they had seen the supposedly slumping Buehrle.
"He didn't struggle tonight," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "He worked quick and he used every pitch and he changed speeds. That was pitching -- in, out, up and down."
It all added up to Jon Lester suffering a loss for the first time since May 25, snapping an 11-game unbeaten streak for Boston's solid left-hander.
Over seven innings, Lester (10-4, 3.23 ERA) gave up six hits and four runs, walking three and striking out two.
"I really just got outpitched," said Lester. "There's nothing more to say. I executed the pitches I wanted to execute. With the exception of the loss, I'm pretty happy with how I threw the ball."
What Lester did was keep the Red Sox close enough to where they could mount a comeback. And they almost did.
Entering the eighth inning, Buehrle had a three-hit shutout. Perhaps the first break Boston received all night was when Jason Varitek led off that eighth with a single, prompting White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen to remove Buehrle (110 pitches) from the game.
Octavio Dotel came on, and the Red Sox rallied. J.D. Drew worked a one-out walk and Dustin Pedroia belted a 350-foot, three-run homer to left to bring Boston within one.
"I was just trying to get on base to be honest with you, to get David [Ortiz] up with a chance to tie the game," Pedroia said. "I ended up getting a good pitch to hit and hit it. That was basically it."
Ortiz then fell to 2-for-18 on the road trip by grounding out to first. With D.J. Carrasco on for the White Sox, Kevin Youkilis temporarily kept hope alive with a walk. But Mike Lowell extended his drought to 0-for-15 by fouling out to the catcher.
The Red Sox at least gave themselves a chance in that eighth.
"That's why you talk about working counts and trying to get to the bullpen," Francona said. "Again, that's what happens sometimes. You run into a problem. Petey took a great swing, and all of a sudden, the whole game changed. It just didn't change enough."
An ill-fated rundown in the bottom of the seventh proved to be costly for the Red Sox at the time. Orlando Cabrera was at first with two outs when A.J. Pierzynski drove one to right field.
Cabrera was held up at third, and the Red Sox had Pierzynski caught in a rundown between first and second. So while they pursued that, Cabrera snuck in to score. The Red Sox finally completed the rundown 9-4-6-3-6-4, but it was too late.
Rookie shortstop Jed Lowrie said he was at fault.
"My initial reaction right when Petey threw it to me was to go get him and try to tag him before Cabrera scored, and he was further away than I thought," Lowrie said. "I didn't even think to look home, because I thought I was going to get him on the tag. It was just a play that I made a bad read on and I cost us a run."
Holding the 4-0 edge wound up being huge for the White Sox in light of Pedroia's three-run shot.
From there, the momentum stayed with the White Sox. Carlos Quentin unloaded for a solo shot against reliever Manny Delcarmen to make it 5-3 in the bottom of the eighth.
Early on, Buehrle gave Lester no margin for error. Pierzynski gave the White Sox a 1-0 lead on a sacrifice fly in the third.
In the fifth, things got a little ugly. After a walk to Nick Swisher, Alexei Ramirez blooped one into short left that fell between Lowrie and Jason Bay. Up stepped Cabrera, who ripped a two-run double to right.
"I think the big hit was Cabrera," Lester said. "It was a good pitch to him, and he's a good hitter. It goes down the line. Nothing you can really do about it. You've got to tip your hat to him."
Unfortunately for the Red Sox, there was a lot of hat-tipping in this one, most of it in the direction of Buehrle.
"He pretty much shut us down," said Pedroia. "We had nothing going. The innings he was working, he was working fast and getting their guys on offense."