TORONTO — Shane Victorino, a switch hitter, has hit only righthanded in recent weeks because of a strained left hamstring that has been slow to heal.
From the right side, Victorino can swing the bat with his usual effort. But the strength isn’t there when he stands in the lefthanded batter’s box and plants his left leg.
With the permission of Red Sox manager John Farrell, Victorino decided to temporarily abandon hitting lefthanded.
So you can imagine Victorino’s relief when the Toronto Blue Jays sent lefthander Aaron Loup out to pitch the 11th inning Tuesday night.
Given a chance to swing without compromise, Victorino delivered a two-run single into center field that lifted the Sox to a 4-2 victory against the Blue Jays.
Victorino also threw a runner out at the plate in the sixth inning to help the Sox increase their lead in the American League East to four games on Tampa Bay. It was the 19th time this season the Sox have won a game in their final at-bat.
The Sox are 4-4 on a 10-game road trip that finishes with two more games at Rogers Centre against the last-place Jays.
Loup (4-5) walked Jarrod Saltalamacchia with one out before Will Middlebrooks singled to left field. After Jacoby Ellsbury grounded into a force at second, he stole second. Victorino fell behind 1-and-2 before driving a fastball up the middle to score two runs.
“The guy is a winning player. That’s the best way I can describe it,” second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. “He’s been a big piece of what we’ve been doing defensively and offensively. Shane can change the game.”
Victorino is hitting .287 but with less than expected power because of the leg injury. But Tuesday night was an example of how he is still able to contribute.
“Do I want to hit righthanded on a righty? Probably not,” Victorino said. “That’s the way I feel right now and that’s what I’m going to do until my body feels good. I thank John for allowing me to do it.
“I’m sure they sit there and wonder what’s going on. I don’t know. They signed a switch-hitter, not a righthanded hitter.”
It works for Farrell.
“We’ve seen it many times over. He’s a very good player,” the manager said. “Even though right now he’s feeling better at the righthanded side of the plate, he’s going to find a way to contribute.”
Behind Ryan Dempster, who pitched seven strong innings, the Sox took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the eighth. In one of his best starts this season, Dempster allowed four hits, walked two, and struck out four.
With the Sox trailing, 1-0, Victorino threw out speedy Jose Reyes at the plate to end the sixth inning.
Reyes tried to score from second on a single by Edwin Encarnacion and was so out that he didn’t bother to slide.
Victorino thought at first the Blue Jays would respect his arm and hold Reyes.
“The thought went through my mind,” he said. “But I had to come up and throw and tried to make the best throw I could. They sent him and it worked out.”
It was the eighth assist of the season for Victorino.
Toronto called up righthander Todd Redmond from Triple A Buffalo to make a spot start and he threw 5⅓ scoreless innings, giving up three hits and striking out five.
The Sox finally scored against Sergio Santos in the seventh inning
Middlebrooks went the other way with a 96-mile per hour fastball, lining it off the wall in right field for a double. Ellsbury singled to center to tie the game.
Ellsbury stole second and advanced to third base on a groundout. Pedroia singled to right field to give the Sox a 2-1 lead.
Middlebrooks is 5 for 12 with two RBIs and three runs scored since returning from Triple A Pawtucket. The Sox have won two of those games.
Farrell believes Middlebrooks looks more relaxed at the plate. The third baseman agrees with that assessment.
“I’ve put away all the individual things,” he said. “I’m here for these guys. I just want to help us win. I’m in a much better place.”
With Dempster only at 88 pitches and the bottom of the order up, Farrell went to Junichi Tazawa to start the eighth inning. J.P. Arencibia lined his fifth pitch over the wall in left.
In seven appearances against Toronto this season, Tazawa has allowed seven runs on nine hits — five of them home runs — in seven innings.
“It didn’t work out, obviously,” Farrell said. “Felt like the power was a better matchup against J.P., who handles offspeed stuff very well.”
The Sox bullpen held from there. Craig Breslow worked a scoreless inning and Koji Uehara (3-0) retired the four batters he faced.
Uehara has not allowed a run in his last 17⅓ innings.
The Sox have come from behind to win 28 games this season — seven times since July 30.
“What is it? I don’t know. From Day 1, that’s just the mentality this team has,” Victorino said. “You can play 27 outs even if we’re down by however many runs. That’s the mind-set and that’s always been our mind-set. Lately it seems to be happening that way.”