Jon Lester was perfect. Boston's entire pitching staff nearly was on the day.
Lester retired 18 consecutive batters and combined with his bullpen to hold the Tampa Bay Rays without a baserunner until one out in the ninth, leading the Boston Red Sox to a 5-1 victory Sunday.
Jason Bourgeois reached on an infield hit in the ninth against Marco Duarte, Boston's fourth pitcher.
Lester, Boston's projected opening-day starter, struck out six and threw 53 of 79 pitches for strikes. He has allowed two runs, six hits and four walks over five starts and 20 innings, striking out 16.
"Eighteen up, 18 down," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "I thought the one thing that stood out to me was the number of 3-2 pitches that he executed. ... He pitched with a lot of confidence. Didn't overthrow. But yet, at the same time, we're seeing an increase in power from start to start. Very sharp, obviously."
Four of Lester's six strikeouts ended innings. He set the tone early, with two strikeouts in the first inning.
"Was able to get in a good rhythm early on, established our fastball, just kind of went from there," he said. "I had a good breaking ball today, which was good to see. We've been working on that. So all in all it was good day."
Anthony Carter and Joel Hanrahan each pitched a perfect inning for Boston.
Bourgeois beat out a slow roller behind the second-base bag fielded by second baseman Jonathan Diaz, who didn't have a play on the speedy runner. After reaching, Bourgeois advanced on Christian Vazquez's two-out passed ball and scored on Cole Figueroa's ground-rule double. For Bourgeois, it was the first time he's been in a position to break up a perfect game.
"High school, summer league, Little League, I've never done anything like that," he said. "Just glad I could shed some light on the day for us. It was a tough one today."
Rays manager Joe Maddon wasn't bothered by the near no-hitter.
"Not concerned but I thought it could happen," he said. "It was all there for them. We have a lot of practice rebounding from those games. From that perspective, it was not that big of a concern. We've been able to go to the playoffs and win 90-plus games despite those moments."
Jonny Gomes was 3 for 3 with four RBIs for the Red Sox, who wore green uniforms and caps on St. Patrick's Day.
"Jonny with three very good at-bats today against right-handed pitching," said Farrell. "I know he wants more opportunities against right-handers. You keep driving in four runs in three at-bats, you'll keep getting those opportunities."
Alex Cobb, making his fifth start, allowed four runs — three earned — and six hits in 5 1-3 innings with five strikeouts.
"Everything was good," Maddon said. "They just got a couple of runs."
Cobb has a 2.23 ERA, while Lester's went down to 0.90
"It was not a great, not a bad outing," Cobb said. "It was just an outing. It was a spring training, get your work in, get up, get down for six innings, which I did. So it was good in that sense."
Cobb entered the game with a 12-inning scoreless streak over his previous three starts.
"I'll probably lose some sleep over it tonight," he said. "But I'll be back tomorrow."
NOTES: Red Sox LHP Franklin Morales is progressing after having an injection on Monday for a bulging disk in his lower back. The Red Sox hope he can begin a throwing program within the next few days. He will not be ready for opening day. ... LHP Craig Breslow (shoulder) also will not be ready for opening day. ... RF Shane Victorino was back in the Red Sox lineup for the first time since returning from the World Baseball Classic and went 1 for 3. ... SS Stephen Drew has been dealing with concussion symptoms and has not played since being hit in the helmet by a pitch on March 7. His availability for opening day is questionable. ... DH David Ortiz, bothered by inflammation and irritation in both heel, may not resume batting practice Monday. ... Rays OF Sam Fuld continues to make progress from a tight right hamstring and could possibly return at some point in the next week. He has not appeared in a game since March 3 and his recovery has taken longer than originally expected. ... Maddon said he is not overly concerned with the workload of closer Fernando Rodney, who has pitched 5 1-3 scoreless innings with five saves for the Dominican Republic in the WBC. Rodney has given up just one hit.