BOSTON – Nothing happens quietly or without drama in Boston, and the growing possibility of a divorce between the Red Sox and ace Jon Lester is no exception.
First it was four teams in on the pending free agent, then it was eight teams, then suddenly the Pittsburgh Pirates emerged as suitors, too. Failed extension talks between club and player were leaked, surely aimed at easing fan angst. And John Farrell revealed Brandon Workman was lined up to start in Lester’s place Wednesday hours before he was actually scratched from the outing, steps taken only if the possibility of a trade is very, very real.
As always, the Toronto Blue Jays got sucked into the morass, with various local outlets building up their interest in Lester, ignoring the unlikelihood of another deal between the clubs. (Hey, remember how we poached your old manager? How about we let bygones be bygones, and you allow us to plunder your farm system for two months of Lester, cool?) Later, that speculation was dutifully quashed.
The reality is the Blue Jays aren’t giving up the type of package the Red Sox reportedly want for the lefty, and the latest exhibit of why GM Alex Anthopoulos must keep his young arms in the fold came during Tuesday’s 4-2 victory over the AL East cellar-dwellers.
Marcus Stroman, the subject of so many trade rumours, delivered another ace-like outing with seven innings of one-run ball, allowing just six hits and two walks with a career-high eight strikeouts. Aaron Sanchez, usually the No. 1 target of rival clubs in trade talks, came on to face one batter in the eighth and retired Dustin Pedroia on a grounder to short, with some help from some Jose Reyes brilliance on a ball to the 5-6 hole.
Together with Drew Hutchison, they are the present and the future of this team. Unless, say, the Los Angeles Dodgers call dangling Clayton Kershaw, they aren’t going anywhere.
"It’s a nice reward for the organization," manager John Gibbons said of the way Stroman and Sanchez have performed. "A couple of trades two years ago, we had to trade away some pretty good (young) players to bring in some good ones. (They’re) the guys we kept. …
"This is your team, they’re good enough. Stro, he’s experienced it now, he’s had a lot of success at this level. Sanchey is still getting his feet wet, and it’s a new role for him. His big thing was command in the minor-leagues, can he harness it? Since he’s been here he has."
That doesn’t necessarily mean the Blue Jays are done their pre-deadline work with Danny Valencia, who joined the club Tuesday, flew out to deep centre as a pinch-hitter in the eighth and then made a terrific scoop of Reyes’ throw on the Pedroia play at first base.
Scouts from nine teams watched left-hander Sean Nolin throw six shutout innings for triple-A Buffalo against Indianapolis on Tuesday night, and he’s an interesting chip. While everyone seems to want the Blue Jays to acquire an ace – who wouldn’t want one? – a more realistic possibility is another relief arm to help bridge the gap to closer Casey Janssen. Sure Sanchez has looked good in his three outings so far, but it makes far more sense to have him displace someone in the eighth inning role, rather than handing him the gig, even on a part-time basis, outright.
Besides, with Steve Delabar and Sergio Santos still trying to find their way at Buffalo, the Blue Jays have no closing depth behind Janssen, and someone to set-up who could jump into that role if needed makes a ton of sense.
Deals can also be made in August, a point Anthopoulos has mentioned so often it’s really worth heeding, but regardless of how that plays out, the Blue Jays need to keep handling their business on the field the way they have since the all-star break.
They’re now 9-3 since play resumed, running their record to 58-50, in sole possession of the American League’s second wild card, and again look like a legitimate player for a post-season berth of some kind.
Stroman is becoming an increasingly key component in that regard, having allowed just one run in his last 21 innings over three starts. Since June 23, he’s gone at least 6.2 innings and allowed two runs or less in all but one of his seven outings.
"He throws hard and he’s got pretty good command," said manager John Gibbons, who praised Stroman for performing beyond expectations. "He’s got that wipeout-type breaking ball, if he gets into trouble he can get strikeouts. That’s huge. If you’re a contact guy, it’s not quite as easy.
"He’s running with it, I’ll tell you that."
Things only got dicey once for Stroman, with two on and two out in the fourth for David Ortiz, who in the second drove a ball to the wall in right field that Jose Bautista calmly settled under and caught. This time, Ortiz rolled over a changeup to second base for an easy out.
Sanchez followed him in the eighth, a nice moment for two young pitchers who have become close friends. After Pedroia was retired, Brett Cecil got two outs to keep things at 3-1 and pass the baton to Janssen.
"He’s got power stuff so I know when he comes in the opposition is going to have a hard time putting the ball in play with authority," Stroman said of Sanchez. "He’s a great guy to have down there at this point, and I have 100 per cent confidence in him."
Offensively, the Blue Jays got this one done on the back of Anthony Gose’s two-out, two-run double in the fourth, a key hit that came right after the Red Sox had tied the game 1-1 on Pedroia’s RBI double in the third.
Gose helped create another run in the ninth when he singled, took third on a hit and run with Reyes and scored on Melky Cabrera’s groundout. That gave Janssen ample cushion and he surrendered a Xander Bogaerts solo shot but nothing else, keeping the drama and intrigue off the field, where it so often is in Beantown.