TORONTO — Much like the Toronto Blue Jays of 2015, the Boston Red Sox of 2016 have made their name by hitting, hitting and hitting some more. They lead the majors in runs scored, batting average and weighted runs created plus, which means that no matter what prism you view this game through, the Red Sox are hitting the stuffing out of the ball. The 2016 Blue Jays, on the other hand, have been the complete opposite.
But on Saturday afternoon at Rogers Centre, the Blue Jays’ offence finally broke through and looked like it did in 2015, rallying against the Red Sox bullpen late in the game to overcome a pair of deficits and steal a 10-9 victory on the strength of some timely bottom-of-the-ninth hitting from Justin Smoak, Russell Martin and Devon Travis.
“We’re feeling good right now, that’s for sure,” said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, after watching his team win it’s fourth in a row, all against AL East opponents. “We’re playing some good baseball over the last week to 10 days. We’ve been kind of waiting on that. These last two games have been great ballgames. Back and forth, entertaining, good crowds. And against a team we’re chasing. We’re starting to feel better about ourselves, no doubt.”
It all began in the eighth, with the Red sox up, 8-4, when Michael Saunders and Smoak both reached base to open the inning. Martin followed and took a 1-2 Junichi Tazawa sinker the opposite way to score Saunders, before Travis laced a double down the left-field line to score Smoak and put two runners in scoring position with none out.
Martin scored on a Tazawa wild pitch before Red Sox manager John Farrell brought his closer, Craig Kimbrel, into the game with one out in the eighth to try to stop the bleeding. Kimbrel got Kevin Pillar to swing through a 98-mph fastball down and away for the second out of the inning. But Jose Bautista took the exact same pitch—this time at 99-mph—into right field to score Travis and tie the game.
But Josh Donaldson popped out to end the inning, and then David Ortiz launched a Gavin Floyd curveball 384 feet to right field in the top of the ninth to put the Red Sox back ahead by one.
Kimbrel came back out of the Red Sox dugout to finish what he started and retired the first two batters he faced before allowing a Smoak single into centre field. Ezequiel Carrera pinch ran for Smoak and, with Martin at the plate, stole second base and advanced to third on a throwing error by Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez. That’s when Martin lined a Kimbrel fastball to left-centre field to cash Carrera.
“He’s a two-pitch guy. Really good fastball, good slider. I was just trying to get a pitch out over the good part of the plate and put the bat on it,” Martin said. “I was able to lay off some tough sliders and finally got a fastball that found quite a bit of the plate. Put a good swing on it, and the ball was in the gap.”
That brought up Travis, in just his fourth game back from injury, who bounced a ball down the left-field line and beat out the throw at first for the game-winning single. As Travis crossed first, the Rogers Centre shook like it hasn’t all season.
“I was running for my life,” Travis said. “I was just trying to battle and put the ball in play. And good things happen sometimes when you do that.”
Of course, a lot of stuff happened before those late-game dramatics, too. Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman went 5.1 innings, allowing 11 hits and seven earned runs. The Red Sox consistently barreled Stroman’s two-seamer, normally a reliable groundball pitch, and ambushed a few change-ups as they clubbed seven extra-base hits.
“I was pretty bad today. It’s unacceptable for the amount of runs we got and the way our offence played all around. I have to be a lot better than that from the beginning all the way through to the end,” Stroman said. “I was up a little bit. I’ll go back and review game film and do everything in my power to make sure I’m better next time out.”
Martin said that from behind the plate he saw Stroman struggling to stay on top of the ball and bury his pitches down in the zone.
“It just looked like a lot of his fastballs were finding the middle of the plate. He’s got good movement on his fastball but I feel like he wasn’t starting it in the right spots,” Martin said. “When he’s really good, he’s able to attack, and the sinker’s working well and it’s working down. Today it didn’t really seem like he had much depth on that pitch. It seemed like it was going more sideways than down.”
Meanwhile, on the Red Sox mound, Rick Porcello was a little better but not by much, allowing four earned runs on seven hits over his 6.2 innings, striking out five while limiting the damage around a troublesome third inning.
Darwin Barney and Pillar opened that frame with back-to-back doubles, plating the first run of the day. Bautista then singled Pillar to third and Donaldson walked behind him to load the bases for Edwin Encarnacion, who was hit on the bottom of his hands by a pitch, which brought in another. Then Saunders grounded into a double play, which helped Porcello out of his jam but nevertheless gave the Blue Jays a three-run lead.
Stroman flirted with own meltdown inning in the very next frame, allowing a long leadoff homer to Xander Bogaerts, a double to David Ortiz and a free pass to Hanley Ramirez. But then Jackie Bradley Jr. lined a 1-1 pitch directly at the shortstop Barney, who flipped the ball to Travis to nab Ortiz straying off second for the rare 6-4 double play. Stroman then got a line out from Travis Shaw to end the threat.
But Stroman was shaky again in the fifth, allowing four straight hits as the Red Sox tied the game. After Blue Jays pitching coach Pete Walker came to the mound to impart some advice, it looked like Stroman might manage to dodge disaster again, as he struck out Ortiz on an 86-mph slider that stung the Red Sox designated hitter in the ankle as he tried to check his swing.
But with two outs and two of those earlier four hits now in scoring position, Ramirez lined an 83-mph change-up into left field to cash both runners and put the Red Sox ahead 5-3. Bradley Jr. led off the next inning with a first-pitch ground rule double before Shaw hit an 83-mph changeup 374 feet into the right-field seats to extend the Red Sox lead to four.
Two batters later, Stroman was done, having allowed seven earned runs for the second time in his last three outings.
But Martin got one back in the sixth, taking Porcello deep the opposite way for a solo shot, his third home run in his last four games. That set the table for the Blue Jays’ eighth-inning comeback, and eventual ninth-inning victory, as the club scored more than seven runs for just the fifth time this season after managing the feat 42 times in 2015.
“We’re playing a tough team. They’re not going to give up. They’re not going to give in, even if they’re down,” Martin said. “At this point, we believe that we have a good team and we’re just going to keep our focus and keep grinding through no matter what happens. With the potency in our lineup, I feel like no deficit is ever too big to overcome.”