Litsch lights-out in win over Red Sox
Right-hander surrenders one run over 6 2/3 to outduel Beckett
BOSTON -- The flags around Fenway Park clung to their poles as a brisk wind violently whipped and pointed them toward the towering wall in left field. The steady gusts around Boston's home park provided a nightmarish backdrop for any pitcher charged with taking the mound.
On Sunday afternoon, that task fell to Blue Jays rookie Jesse Litsch, who has been praised for his ability to remain collected in adverse conditions. True to that assessment, the young right-hander spun a gem for Toronto, outdueling Josh Beckett for a 2-1 victory over Boston in a setting better suited for a slugfest.
"That's the way the game works," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "You go out there and look at the way the flag was blowing today, you never would've expected it to be 2-1. He was great."
The win allowed the Blue Jays (45-46) to depart Boston on the heels of a four-game split against the Red Sox (55-36), who lead Toronto by 10 games in the American League East. The Jays would've preferred to exit with a series win, but they'll take what they can get, considering the next four games are on the road against the Yankees.
"We have to win series," Toronto center fielder Vernon Wells said. "It's not a wasted trip, but we didn't come here and do what we needed to do. But once you're down 2-1 in a series, you have to get this win. We were able to get it today."
The fierce wind nearly cost Toronto its victory in the Fenway finale. With the Blue Jays leading, 2-0, in the sixth, Red Sox second baseman Alex Cora drilled an offering from Litsch (2-3) into center field. Wells turned and sprinted after the ball, but his jump was delayed just enough to allow it to fall over his outstretched glove for a leadoff double.
"The weird thing was, Coco Crisp hit me a ball the inning before the same height as Cora's," said Wells, referring to an inning-ending catch he made in the fifth. "Cora's took off and Coco's stayed there. It's good to get out of here. It was totally unpredictable."
With Cora on second, Boston slugger David Ortiz ripped a 3-2 pitch into gap between Wells and Jays right fielder Alex Rios. As the ball tailed away from Wells, he glanced at Rios, who appeared to have a read on the play. Rios attempted a diving grab, but the wind sent the ball diving to the grass, allowing Cora to score and giving Ortiz a double.
"We were both going that way and I took a look at him," Wells explained. "I saw him kind of go up with his glove. So, I was like, 'OK, he has it.' I went to back him up, and all of a sudden he's diving for it. It's one of those things. In this park, you never know what's going to happen."
Two outs and four batters later, Red Sox right fielder Eric Hinske lined a pitch into right field, and Ortiz -- even with a gimpy right knee -- attempted to score from second base. Rios scooped up the ball and fired a bullet to home plate, where Toronto catcher Jason Phillips easily tagged Ortiz to end the threat.
That play allowed the pair of runs that the Jays managed against Beckett (12-3) to hold up as the difference. Beckett struck out eight over eight innings and only slipped once, which was enough to give Litsch the upper hand. In the second inning, Lyle Overbay and Aaron Hill connected for consecutive doubles off Beckett, who then allowed an RBI single to Royce Clayton that put the Jays ahead by two.
"I was the second best pitcher today -- bottom line," said Beckett, who lost for the second time in three starts. "If you're the second-best pitcher in one inning, sometimes that's enough to lose a ballgame."
Litsch, who is currently filling a spot in the rotation for injured right-hander A.J. Burnett, allowed the lone run on nine hits over 6 2/3 innings. Since being promoted from Triple-A Syracuse on June 28, the 22-year-old righty has posted a 0.66 ERA over two starts, in which he's yielded just one run over 11 2/3 innings.
Neither pitching at historic Fenway Park nor the wind swirling inside created much concern for the fast-paced freshman.
"I get a lot of ground balls," said a smiling Litsch, when asked about the conditions.
That kind of simple response reflects the calm demeanor and confidence that helped convince the Jays to promote Litsch to the big leagues for the first time back in May.
"He hasn't had jitters since Day 1," Gibbons said.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.