A day after clinching the American League East title, the scoreboard watching didn’t end.
The current race is for the best record in the AL, which would secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and allow the Red Sox to face the wild-card playoff winner. Toward that end, the Red Sox lost ground Saturday night, succumbing to the Blue Jays, 4-2, before a sellout crowd of 37,569 at Fenway.
With Oakland beating the Minnesota Twins, 9-1, Boston’s lead over the A’s for best record dipped to 1½ games, with the A’s owning a game in hand. After the Red Sox wrap up their series with Toronto on Sunday, they have two games in Colorado and three games in Baltimore to end the regular season.
The A’s finish up with Minnesota on Sunday and then have a tough three-game series at the Angels, who have played much better recently, and then wrap up the season with three games in Seattle.
“I’ve always said that when you have a chance to go for the throat, keep the pedal down on the metal, you do it,” Shane Victorino said. “Of course we want the home-field advantage and the best record. There’s a lot of pride in that and this team has a lot of pride. We’ll come back tomorrow and try to take care of our business. And really that’s what it’s all about. We have to keep winning games.”
Whether it was the hangover from Friday night’s celebration or simply from Blue Jays starter Mark Buehrle having their number, the Red Sox didn’t have that extra zest Saturday night. Manager John Farrell rested first baseman Mike Napoli and Dustin Pedroia (who pinch hit in the seventh inning and stayed in the game at second base) while also playing Will Middlebrooks at first base for the first time in his career.
“John understandably wanted to give some people a day off, but I’m sure we’ll have our [regular] lineup out there tomorrow,” Victorino said.
Farrell also used lefty Drake Britton after starter Clay Buchholz was done after six innings and 106 pitches. Buchholz allowed all three of his runs in the fourth, when two defensive plays — one by third baseman Xander Bogaerts and a bad pickoff throw by Buchholz — helped Toronto’s cause.
Ryan Dempster also made his 2013 relief debut by working the eighth inning and Matt Thornton pitched the ninth, allowing the Jays’ fourth run.
The Red Sox did manage to get within one run after trailing, 3-0. The Sox scored one in the sixth (on a Jonny Gomes single) and one in the seventh (on David Ross’s ground out), but the Jays bumped the lead to 4-2 on J.P. Arencibia’s RBI single off the wall against Thornton.
“I don’t like to lose,” said Ross, who threw out three would-be base stealers. “We’re always trying to win out there. We played well, but just not well enough to win tonight. We want the best record.’’
Buchholz said he wasn’t able to get his fastball in on batters, but otherwise felt fine. Ross and Farrell both said they thought Buchholz had better stuff than in his last outing against the Yankees.
“My fastball was leaking over the plate,” Buchholz said. “I told him [Farrell] I could go back out [for the seventh], but he thought I’d gone far enough.”
It was Buchholz’s first loss of the season, falling to 11-1. He was perfect over the first three innings before giving up a single to Jose Reyes to start the fourth. He allowed his first runs since June 8, his final start before missing three months with a neck/shoulder strain.
Despite the rocky fourth Buchholz gave the Sox a quality start, but the quality of his season had been far superior to what he showed Saturday.
Buchholz, who entered with a 2.41 ERA in 17 previous appearances against the Jays, seemed to lack a crisp fastball from the fourth inning on. The good news is he extended himself to 106 pitches.
Even Farrell said afterward that he has no fear of Buchholz pitching deep into games.
Buchholz allowed five hits in the fourth — the same number he had allowed in two starts since returning.
Reyes singled to lead off the inning but was caught stealing. After Munenori Kawasaki lined out to John McDonald at second base, Brett Lawrie reached on an infield single to third. Adam Lind doubled him in on a laser shot to center.
Moises Sierra singled and the second run scored on Rajai Davis’s bloop single to center. Buchholz’s throwing error on a pickoff attempt to first cost him a third (unearned) run.
The Red Sox weren’t feeling their oats against the quick-working Buehrle, who surpassed the 200-inning plateau for the 13th consecutive season. He went six innings and the Jays’ pen did the rest with Casey Janssen recording his 33d save in the ninth.
Victorino caused a bit of a controversy in the sixth when it looked like he leaned into a pitch and got hit in the shoulder. Buehrle, catcher Arencibia, and manager John Gibbons protested the play to no avail. Victorino leads the league in HBP with 18.
“I’m not out there trying to get hit with pitches,” Victorino said.
With two men on, a single to left by Gomes put Boston on the board.