Rapid Reaction: Red Sox 6, Blue Jays 3
September, 20, 2013
By Tony Lee, Special to ESPNBoston.com
BOSTON -- Worst to first.
That stunning journey for the Boston Red Sox is complete, a 6-3 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday night the clincher that gives the organization its seventh American League East crown, its first since 2007 and -- without a doubt -- its most unexpected.
The Sox rode seven strong innings by Jon Lester, four late runs and another scoreless effort by Koji Uehara to the victory, their 94th of the season. Mike Carp had three RBIs, Daniel Nava recorded a pair of hits and scored twice and Dustin Pedroia was 3-for-5 with an RBI.
This historic win came exactly one year after Boston gave up one run in the bottom of the eighth and six more in the bottom of the ninth to lose 7-4 at Tampa Bay, one of the more stunning defeats during a 7-19 September that stands in such stark contrast to the current state of the organization.
Talk about a turnaround.
No, seriously, talk about it. We're off to dodge sprays of champagne and bring you reaction from what is sure to be a raucous Red Sox clubhouse. Here is a little light reading on tonight's affair to keep you company:
Jon's journey: Lester, considered by many to be the fifth starter in terms of effectiveness during a difficult June, ran his record to 15-8 with a solid effort. In doing so, he became the third left-hander in Red Sox history to record 100 wins.
Lester allowed a run on five hits while striking out eight to improve to 4-0 against Toronto in 2013.
Thanks, Koji: Lester handed a 5-1 lead over to the bullpen before Jays slugger Adam Lind halved the deficit with a two-run blast off Junichi Tazawa in the eighth. Tazawa allowed one more man to reach safely before Uehara entered for what would become his first five-out save. Uehara did give up an infield hit that brought the go-ahead run to the plate, but he fanned J.P. Arencibia on three pitches to stifle Toronto's last threat.
Tazawa was scuffling, to be sure. Still, manager John Farrell's decision to go to Uehara, and not someone else, with five outs to go said something about his desire to claim the division when it was there for the taking. It's also rather fitting that the Opening Day starter gets the win and the super closer gets the save on the night the Sox clinch.
AL Beast, AL Least: Had to mention this in a tweet earlier in the day, but it bears a retelling. Outside Fenway Park around 3 p.m., there were three Red Sox fans discussing the playoff rotation. Nearby, three men wearing Blue Jays jerseys were discussing ketchup chips.
The disparity in the two situations for Boston and Toronto was evident in those two snapshots, and it carried to the field. Moments after Lester used 10 pitches to set down the Blue Jays in order in the top of the first, Toronto center fielder Colby Rasmus couldn't even make it to his position for the bottom half before a ball thrown his way from the bullpen struck the unsuspecting Rasmus in the head, forcing him from the game.
The Jays are already down sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion and lost their cleanup hitter Friday night in one of the oddest manners possible, rendering an already weak lineup even more so. Replacement Kevin Pillar entered into the four-hole with a .171 average and one home run.
Despite all that: The Jays had their fair share of chances. In addition to the five hits against Lester, Toronto drew a pair of walks and had two men reach on errors. Lester picked up five of his eight strikeouts with runners on, which helped his cause tremendously.
5-2-5-2 double play: A big moment came in the fourth when Lester loaded the bases before performing a magic act to keep Toronto off the board.
Within that escape was an interesting inning for third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who allowed one man to reach on an error before starting an odd 5-2-5-2 double play by fielding a bouncer up the line, stepping on the bag and then working with Jarrod Saltalamacchia to get Pillar in a rundown.
Middlebrooks also had a nice diving stab in the fifth to get the speedy Jose Reyes.
Four-letter words: Boston's second run served as such a great reminder as to what has made this team so special. The rally in the third began with a ringing double by Daniel Nava, one of the unsung heroes of the turnaround, and ended with Mike Carp, another in that same category, drawing a bases-loaded walk. It was the third walk of the inning for the Red Sox, who ran starter Esmil Rogers from the game and saw 24 pitches in a span of four batters.
That patient approach, spearheaded by Mike Napoli -- who improved upon his league lead in pitches per plate appearance by taking a walk in the inning -- has frustrated guys like Rogers since the beginning of April.
One more magic number: The Sox have one more significant regular-season accomplishment for which to strive, that being the best overall record in the American League. (Two, if you want to count 100 wins.) With this victory, their lead over the Oakland Athletics sits at three games, but still just two in the loss column. The A's are hosting Minnesota later Friday night.
Up next: Clay Buchholz makes his final regular-season home start opposite Toronto lefty Mark Buehrle. Saturday's first pitch is 7:10 p.m.