Sox tied atop Wild Card with wild win
Club swings bats to overcome shaky Beckett, Papelbon
TORONTO -- For much of Tuesday's game against the Blue Jays, the Red Sox seemed to be cruising to a win. While the outcome did not seem to be in doubt early on, how the Sox got there was totally unexpected.
The Red Sox jumped out to an early lead with ace Josh Beckett on the mound, but both Beckett and lights-out closer Jonathan Papelbon struggled before Boston eked out a hard-fought 10-9 win at Rogers Centre. The win moved the Red Sox into a first-place tie in the American League Wild Card race with the Rangers, who lost to the Twins on Tuesday, 9-6.
Boston (67-51) jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead against Toronto starter Ricky Romero in the second inning, and as the Jays tried to claw their way back, the Sox restored their four-run cushion -- twice.
"Romero's been throwing so well for them, we jump out and grab a lead and they come back and we stay at it, which is great," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "You always feel with Beckett on the mound -- never that the game's over, but good for us -- we got a lead, we've got Beckett on the mound."
But the Jays tied the game at 7 in the sixth inning. The Red Sox got out in front again with a three-run eighth -- this time, keeping the lead.
The go-ahead runs in the eighth came via a combination of small ball by the Sox and an ill-timed error by the Jays.
With runners on first and second, shortstop Alex Gonzalez laid down a one-out bunt. Jays reliever Casey Janssen fielded the ball and first thought about throwing to third base but opted to go for the out at first base. Jannsen's throw sailed past first baseman Lyle Overbay, allowing designated hitter David Ortiz to score from second. Second baseman Nick Green and Gonzalez both crossed home plate later in the frame.
"There's something to be said for persistence, because that was a very losable game," Francona said after the win was finally in the books. "It would've been heartbreaking because of that -- because of the way the guys played.
"We end up with a very difficult win."
While a four-run lead seemed safe with Beckett on the mound, the ace of Boston's staff gave up seven earned runs in 5 1/3 innings. The right-hander had not allowed so many earned runs nor pitched so short a game since April.
Since off-nights have been so rare for Beckett, it was the perfect night for the lineup to put double-digit runs on the board.
"We have our ace pitching out there," Ortiz said. "It's a good time for us to bounce back and give him some support. He's been pitching so good, and everybody has their days like that."
Four of the Jays' runs against Beckett came on three home runs -- the most he's allowed in a game this season -- including two solo shots by designated hitter Randy Ruiz and right fielder Travis Snider. The last homer Beckett gave up was a two-run blast to catcher Rod Barajas that tied the game and marked the end of Beckett's night.
"I felt fine," Beckett said. "I had energy and everything like that just, whenever I wanted to make my pitch, it just didn't come out. ... I just couldn't execute pitches when I needed to."
Going into Tuesday's game, Beckett -- who could have been the first Major League pitcher to reach the 15-win mark this season if he had been in line for the win -- had allowed three runs or fewer in 15 of his previous 18 starts. His 2.18 ERA over that span led the Majors.
So what was wrong with Beckett on Tuesday?
"Everything," Beckett said. "I didn't have much, and they knew it. They were attacking me. They did what they're supposed to do. It doesn't have anything to do with health. I feel great, it's just -- the stuff wasn't there."
Beckett also had to pitch under unforeseen circumstances -- pitching coach John Farrell was not with the team due to a family issue, and catcher Jason Varitek was a late scratch due to neck spasms. Victor Martinez -- who had never caught Beckett before -- took over behind the plate.
"He's so routine-oriented," Francona said of Beckett. "He shows up today and we have to make a catching change a couple of hours before the game, don't have his normal meeting because John's not here and it's just -- everything was hard, early."
Beckett dismissed the suggestion that either change had anything to do with his performance against the Blue Jays (55-62).
Despite Beckett's uncharacteristic performance, the bats were there to pick him up. After the four-run second inning, the Sox added another pair of runs in the fourth to take a 6-3 lead. Ortiz belted a solo shot to center field, swinging at the first pitch he saw from Romero, and a sacrifice fly by Jacoby Ellsbury scored Green, who had gotten on base on a fielding error by Snider.
With Romero out of the game, left fielder Jason Bay hit a solo shot in the fifth, giving Boston a 7-3 lead.
"It was a little bit of everybody tonight, too," Bay added. "It wasn't just one or two guys carrying the load, and that's the way it's going to have to be."
Even after Boston's three-run eighth, the Jays made it tough. Papelbon came on with men on first and second with two outs in the bottom of the frame, and allowed both runners to score on a walk and a single. Papelbon issued another walk before getting the final out of the frame.
Papelbon, who recorded his 29th save of the year and lowered his ERA to 2.08 -- both the runs that scored were charged to Daniel Bard -- came out for the ninth, and allowed two baserunners before closing out the game.
"He just looked sluggish," Francona said. "After the first inning we're thinking, 'OK, we've got one out in the eighth and because he had three days off, let's get a nice quick out and send him back out.' That didn't happen.
"We went and checked on him and he goes, 'I'm fine, I'm just sluggish from the off-day."
Fortunately for both Papelbon and Beckett, the offense was anything but sluggish after Monday's day off. The Sox were able to walk away with a win after dropping two of three in Texas to the Rangers.
"Whether we win 10-0 and Josh throws a shutout or we win 10-9, a win's a win," Bay said.
"All around, probably not the way you want to draw it up, but a win's a win, and offensively we hadn't really had one of those games, and I think that that bodes well for us."
Erika Gilbert is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.