Red-hot Sox cool Jays for 50th win
Boston hits July running, boasting the American League's best record
BOSTON -- "Keep calm and chive on."
Brandon Snyder, a member of the Boston Red Sox for all of five days and a catalyst Sunday to a 5-4 walk-off win over the Toronto Blue Jays in his first start for the team, was wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with that message under his uniform. On the back was a Sox logo. The T-shirt came, he said, from Jonny Gomes.
"It's kind of like, 'Keep calm, relax,'" Snyder said. "They made the shirts after the [Boston Marathon] bombings as a charity [item]. They sent them all to Jonny, because he's kind of the leader. Great cause."
And an apt slogan for a team that has won an American League-best 50 games by the end of June, especially on an afternoon like this, when the Sox prevailed under circumstances that might have shaken a lesser bunch, a ninth-inning lead evaporating on Jose Bautista's third home run in two days, this one off Koji Uehara.
"We could have been totally crushed," said right-fielder Shane Victorino, whose terrific sliding catch at the foul line of Jose Reyes' liner just before Bautista's 19th home run may have saved a run. "But we never are. We just say, 'All right, guys, let's get right back at it.'
"And people here are buying into that. Stephen coming in with that big knock today, you look at that and say, 'Wow.'"
Stephen, Brandon, whatever. Victorino has been known to call first-base coach Arnie Beyeler "Ernie," and Beyeler has been here all season. What matters is that when Snyder, who already had contributed a two-run gap double in his first at-bat in the second, came to the plate in the ninth, he was equal to the moment, lining an opposite-field single to right off Jays lefty reliever Juan Perez, who had not allowed an earned run in his past 15 innings.
When Jacoby Ellsbury walked, Snyder was lifted for another Sox player of very recent vintage, Jonathan Diaz, who had arrived just the day before. Remember now, we're talking about two players in Snyder and Diaz who weren't even on the team's 40-man roster until this week.
Toronto manager John Gibbons went to his closer, Casey Janssen, an unorthodox move in a tie game on the road.
"I thought it was an important game for us to win," Gibbons told reporters afterward.
Victorino, batting left-handed against the right-handed Janssen, slapped a bounding ball toward Josh Thole, the Jays' first baseman in name only. Thole, a superb defensive catcher, had played just two big league innings at first base until Sunday, when he replaced starter Adam Lind in the third after Lind felt tightness in his back.
"I was like, 'Dammit, I hit it right at him,'" Victorino said. "Then I saw it take that bad hop and I said, 'Yeah, I'll take that.' I played against Thole all those years when he was in New York with the Mets. He was a great catcher, but I never remembered seeing him play first base.
"I'm like thinking, in a joking way, 'What better guy to pick than him?'"
Thole had been drafted as a first baseman, but the rust showed Sunday. He moved awkwardly to his right, then watched helplessly as the ball squirted past him into right field, Diaz scooting around third to score the winning run in Boston's seventh walk-off win this season, and first for Diaz and Snyder.
"Oh man, I mean honestly, it's just such a great feeling to be part of this," said Snyder, who had signed as a minor league free agent on March 31, the day before the season opened, after playing 40 games in Texas last season for the Rangers.
"Obviously, I played with a good team last year. I've been in good clubhouses. But there's a whole other atmosphere here from the energy that Fenway brings. I was saying that my first game I was here; it gives you chills the whole time, the energy that gets guys going."
Leading the charge to engulf Victorino at first base? Uehara, who had reeled off three straight saves in three days after being anointed Andrew Bailey's replacement as closer, then hung a splitter to Bautista that he hit off the Sports Authority sign.
"I'm not shocked at all," said left-handed reliever Andrew Miller, who struck out Thole and Rajai Davis to end the seventh with the tying run on base, then made a phenomenal play on a bunt by Colby Rasmus to keep the leadoff man from reaching base in the eighth.
"He's awesome. The genuineness of his reactions, if that's the word, is just incredible. He cares only about winning. He doesn't want to give up that run in the ninth, he's been lights out all year, but he's a big team guy. It's incredible, with his personality, that he reacts the way he does."
A week ago Sunday, the Jays had won their 11th straight and had drawn to within five games of first place. After losing three of four to the Sox here, they've fallen back to 8½ games behind, to a team that finished June with a 17-11 record and became just the fourth team in franchise history to enter July with 50 wins.
"It's nice, but our goal isn't to win 50 games," said Sox starter Ryan Dempster, who gave the Sox a very serviceable 5 1/3 innings before Craig Breslow rescued him from a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the sixth by inducing Maicer Izturis to pop out and striking out Munenori Kawasaki. "It's to go out there and keep building on that. We probably could have had a few more because we've given away some games and things like that."
Farrell said the record speaks to the team's consistency, and the depth of the roster, underscored again on a day in which DH David Ortiz and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia were given the afternoon off.
"It's been well-documented, those guys that have needed days off and guys that have been missed for periods of time," Farrell said. "There's been some inconsistencies performance-wise. But I think it just speaks to the overall depth of this team. It's certainly not a milestone. We've got a long, long way to go yet."
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But there also is satisfaction to be taken from how far they've come.
"No one expected this team to be where it is," Victorino said. "Hey, that's not an issue. It's not like we're going out there to disprove the doubters. We're going out there to play the game.
"To me, what it shows is this team plays every day, grinds every day. Like [Mike] Napoli. He was 0-for-4 with an error yesterday, four punchouts. He comes out and hits a BB [second-inning single, run scored] and barely misses with another one. That just shows around here one day you may be the goat, but you just step up the next day. That's what makes that No. 50 look greater.
"But in this division, you better keep that number going in the [right] direction, because there are four teams barreling down on you. Fifty wins, that means nothing, only the fact of how we've played and how we've done it to get to that number. But we've got to continue doing that, because these teams are on our butts."
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