TORONTO — Mike Napoli, one of the hottest hitters the Red Sox have had this season, did not play against the Toronto Blue Jays Saturday afternoon.
Manager John Farrell loaded his lineup with lefthanded hitters against righthander Brandon Morrow, who has struggled against lefties. Farrell also wanted to get Napoli a day away from the artificial turf at the Rogers Centre to rest some nagging injuries.
Beyond that, Farrell is determined to use his entire roster. One of the strengths of the Red Sox last season was their depth, and that can only be maintained by keeping bench players active.
So Mike Carp, a .214 hitter with two RBIs, batted cleanup and played first base.
The move, unconventional as it may have seemed, proved smart. Carp had one of the pivotal at-bats in the game as the Red Sox continued to surge with a 7-6 victory.
That’s two straight and victories in seven of the last 11 games for the Red Sox, now 12-13. They’ll have Jon Lester on the mound Sunday with a chance to sweep and get back to .500 for the first time since April 4.
The Sox have scored 15 runs on 21 hits in their last two games and Saturday drew nine walks. An offense that has struggled to score this season in part because of personnel changes following the World Series is now showing signs of unity.
“Big one for us,” Carp said. “Lots of people had a hand in this game.”
The Sox, trailing 3-0, scored six runs in the third inning. All came with two outs as Morrow walked four batters in a row before A.J. Pierzynski and Will Middlebrooks hit home runs off reliever Chad Jenkins.
The home runs were the first two hits of the game for the Sox.
Carp helped set up the big inning. After Shane Victorino and David Ortiz walked, Carp fouled off three two-strike pitches before laying off a splitter that was off the plate.
Because Morrow had walked the previous two hitters, Carp was expecting to get something he could hit. He had grounded into a double play in the first inning but this time had a better plan.
“Most of the time I’m excited for that because I know he’s going to beat down and maybe overcompensate and throw a strike,” Carp said. “I’m looking for something I can drive. But at the same you have to be aware he could be all over the place.”
The nine-pitch sequence loaded the bases for Grady Sizemore, who walked to force in a run. Pierzynski then hit his grand slam to right-center and the Red Sox had a lead they held.
“It was good to see a couple of foul balls off some tough pitches and Mike didn’t expand the strike zone with two strikes,” Farrell said. “Our lefties did a good job of attacking Brandon.”
Morrow’s eight walks were a career high and the most against the Red Sox since Tampa Bay’s Victor Zambrano walked nine in a game in 2004. Morrow (1-2) lost his command, but the Red Sox also showed patience.
“That’s part of winning,” Carp said. “You have to be willing to take some pitches and get the next guy up. If you can’t hit, take a walk and let the next guy take advantage of the situation. We put A.J. in a great spot and he had the big hit.”
Carp later doubled off Jenkins in the fifth inning and scored on a double by Sizemore as the Red Sox went up, 7-3. That run proved crucial.
Clay Buchholz (1-2) pitched seven strong innings, giving up three runs on three hits in the first inning before shutting the Blue Jays out over six innings. It was an important game for the righthander after his last start, against the Orioles Monday, lasted 2⅓ innings.
“I was maybe too amped up in the beginning but I got myself settled down,” Buchholz said. “I feel a lot better about things now.”
Junichi Tazawa inherited a four-run lead in the eighth inning and nearly gave it away. Juan Francisco homered to start the inning before singles by Dioner Navarro, Colby Rasmus, and Edwin Encarnacion produced a run.
Tazawa allowed nine runs on 14 hits, six of them home runs, in eight innings against the Blue Jays last season. The trend continued.
“Well aware of where Taz’s numbers are against these guys,” Farrell said. “He’s our eighth-inning guy regardless, lefthanded, righthanded. They put some good swings on him today.”
Lefthander Chris Capuano struck out Jonathan Diaz for the second out but walked Jose Reyes to load the bases. Reyes saw 10 pitches and was clapping his hands as he went to first. But the Jays were held there.
Koji Uehara, who wasn’t expecting to be called on for a four-out save, got Melky Cabrera to pop to left field to end the inning.
Jose Bautista homered off Uehara in the ninth. Singles by Navarro and Brett Lawrie created more tension for the Sox before the dangerous Encarnacion lined to center field.
“They were gaining some momentum the deeper we got into that ballgame,” Farrell said. “[Uehara] had just enough to hang on for the four outs today.”
Uehara said he was more relieved than happy when the game was finally over.
“Had it the whole way,” Pierzynski said.
“Look, these guys can hit. We all know that. As long as we end up with one more run than they do, it’s a good day. It was a little scary in the eighth and ninth but we found a way to get it done.”