TORONTO — The Blue Jays were heavy preseason favorites to win the American League East, if not the World Series. A winter of high-profile acquisitions made them the talk of baseball.
The rebuilding Red Sox have assumed that role now. They beat the Blue Jays again, 3-1, Thursday night before a crowd of 25,851 that expended far more energy booing their own desultory team than John Farrell.
It would seem Farrell made the right call when he bolted Toronto after two seasons to return to the Red Sox as their manager. At 20-8, the Sox have the best record in baseball and lead the last-place Jays by 10½ games.
The Sox have taken four of six games against Toronto, all on the road. They have outscored the Jays by 19 runs.
“We’re showing what kind of team we have,” said Ryan Dempster, who went six innings for the win. “It’s a lot of fun right now.”
Dempster, a native of British Columbia, was pitching in Toronto for the first time in his 16-year career. He last pitched in Canada in 2002 when he started the first game of the season for Florida at Montreal.
“I always enjoying pitching back here,” Dempster said. “Coming home and pitching in your country is always a fun thing.”
Rogers Centre was the 41st major league stadium Dempster has pitched in and he liked it just fine, allowing one run on four hits over six innings to improve to 2-2. He is 6-0 in nine career appearances in Canada.
“I’m looking for more expansion teams in Canada,” Dempster said. “That’s kind of the goal. Maybe Vancouver will get a team.”
Four relievers closed the game for the Red Sox. After Koji Uehara handled the eighth inning, Joel Hanrahan pitched the ninth for his fourth save. It was the 100th of his career.
Hanrahan allowed a leadoff single before disposing of the Jays on seven pitches. He hit 97 miles per hour with his fastball and ended the game with a double play.
“It’s nice to finally feel like a part of it again,” said Hanrahan, who pitched for the second time since coming off the disabled list.
Andrew Bailey, who became the closer when Hanrahan was out with a strained hamstring, was not available because of a sore biceps. He felt pain during his last outing Sunday and again when threw in the bullpen Wednesday.
“We’re not going to take any chances with that, particularly with Joel being back healthy,” Farrell said.
Bailey doesn’t believe the injury is serious.
“Felt a little something the last time I pitched,” he said. “We’re just being very [cautious] with it.”
Said Hanrahan: “We’re a better team when both of us are healthy. Whatever they’re going to do, they’re going to do. That’s not really up to us. Our goal is to go out there and get people out.”
The Red Sox had only six hits but drew a season-high 10 walks off five Toronto pitchers. Three runs were plenty for Dempster and the bullpen.
Dempster’s night didn’t start well. Toronto’s leadoff hitter, Brett Lawrie, hit a fastball over the fence in left field for his third home run.
With the Red Sox up, 2-1, in the third inning, Dempster walked the bases loaded with one out. That prompted a visit by pitching coach Juan Nieves.
Dempster fell behind the dangerous Edwin Encarnacion, 2 and 0. The power hitter was impatient and swung at the next pitch, a slider off the outside corner. That produced exactly what Dempster needed, a double play to end the inning.
“He finds a way to navigate through those situations,” Farrell said.
The Blue Jays didn’t advance another runner into scoring position against Dempster as he retired 10 of the last 11 batters he faced, including the final seven.
Andrew Miller started the seventh inning and put two runners on with two outs.
Junichi Tazawa came in to face Lawrie and walked him to load the bases. Tazawa challenged Adam Lind with a high fastball on a 2-and-2 count. Lind swung through it to end the inning.
Toronto starter J.A. Happ, who beat the Sox April 6, didn’t survive the fourth inning. He walked seven and allowed two runs.
The Sox, down 1-0, scored twice in the second inning. Mike Napoli led off with a double, his 22d extra-base hit in 28 games. Napoli hit a line drive that third baseman Lawrie jumped to catch. His mistimed his leap and the ball ended up in the left-field corner.
Will Middlebrooks walked with one out. Mike Carp followed with an RBI single to right field as Napoli beat the throw from Jose Bautista.
Backup catcher David Ross, playing in consecutive games for the first time this season, drew the first of his three walks. Stephen Drew’s sacrifice fly scored Middlebrooks.
The Sox made it 3-1 against the Toronto bullpen in the sixth inning.
Ross drew a walk off Brad Lincoln and reached second when Drew struck out on a wild pitch. Steve Delabar replaced Lincoln and Jacoby Ellsbury singled to left field to drive in Ross.
The Sox are off to their best start since the 2002 team was 24-7. They start a three-game series at Texas on Friday.Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.