BOSTON – The time is coming for someone to make a move in the American League East, to turn all the talk about opportunity in a suddenly parity-filled division into action, to create some separation in the standings.
For the Toronto Blue Jays, Tuesday’s 7-4 victory over the reeling Boston Red Sox was a good start in that regard. Riding a two-homer night from Edwin Encarnacion, they extended the misery of the defending World Series champions, who are now losers of five straight for the first time since dropping eight in a row to close out the 2012 season.
With two more games at Fenway Park before a return to Rogers Centre for a 10-game homestand, the Blue Jays can really send Red Sox Nation into full-scale panic mode, and leave them praying for Stephen Drew, who reached agreement on a one-year deal Tuesday, to be a messiah.
This is no time to ease up on the gas.
"Absolutely," said Casey Janssen. "They won the World Series last year and if we want to be for real we’ve got to beat these teams. We’re not scared of them or anything like that, we respect them, but we want to beat them. The distance we can separate ourselves from them and any other team in our division is important for us, May or September or whenever it is."
A key to making that happen will be for the rotation to keep setting the tone, and while J.A. Happ was fortunate to have allowed only four runs in five-plus innings – credit a brilliant 5-2 double play by Brett Lawrie in the fourth in part for that – he at least held the Red Sox down long enough for his offence to build an insurmountable lead.
Encarnacion’s first two-run homer opened the scoring in the third and Erik Kratz’s solo shot in the fourth made it 3-0. An RBI double by Melky Cabrera in the fifth led Felix Doubront to leave with shoulder fatigue and preceded Encarnacion’s second two-run shot that opened up a 6-0 edge, and after the Red Sox scratched out a pair, Cabrera made it 7-2 with a solo shot in the sixth.
Still, closing out a sixth victory in eight outings that pushed them to 24-22 didn’t come easily as it should have. Mike Napoli’s infield single to open the sixth was followed by a two-run shot from Jonny Gomes that made it a 7-4 game and ended Happ’s night, and clever escapes from the bullpen were needed in the sixth, eighth and ninth innings to avoid bigger trouble.
Happ, brilliant his first time through the order over the first three innings, striking out four straight batters at one point, struggled from there on. If not for Lawrie – who dove to knock down a Xander Bogaerts liner with one out and the bases loaded, grabbed the ball, stepped on third and then threw home to nail David Ortiz – this game may have had a different ending.
"I don’t know if anybody else makes that play – really athletic," said Happ. "That was huge."
Things were dicier in the ninth when Ortiz came up with two men on and ripped a 2-1 Janssen offering about 30 feet to the wrong side of Pesky’s Pole in right field, but the right-hander recovered to strike out the star slugger on the next pitch. Mike Napoli hit into a 5-3 double play to end it.
"Casey never really caves in. He’s very confident, he’s very aggressive," said manager John Gibbons. "He’s been tough on Ortiz his whole career (1-for-14 with two walks), so you’ve still got that in the back of your mind. One of the top hitters in the game, a little bit foul there, but then he came back and got a big strikeout.
"A lot of guys couldn’t do that, a lot of guys might wilt in that situation. Casey’s not one of those guys."
Neither were the Blue Jays, holding tough even after giving a bruised opponent a chance to recover. It didn’t happen on this night, the Red Sox fell to 20-24, the Blue Jays extended their recent roll, and now they must find ways to keep it going.