TORONTO — The percentages were not with Red Sox manager John Farrell when he walked to the mound in the seventh inning Wednesday night and raised his right arm to signal Junichi Tazawa into the game.
Tazawa emerged from the bullpen for the fourth time in the last five games to face a team that has hit him extraordinarily hard over the last two seasons.
That the Blue Jays already had two runners on base made his task even more difficult.
A one-run lead quickly vanished. Tazawa allowed a three-run homer to pinch hitter Danny Valencia and Toronto went on to a 5-2 victory before a crowd of 30,285 at the Rogers Centre.
The Red Sox missed a chance to sweep three games from the Blue Jays. They also wasted a strong start from Joe Kelly, who took a 2-1 lead into the seventh before a series of mistakes were made.
Edwin Encarnacion led off with a double when Kelly left a fastball up instead of down and away as he intended.
Kelly was only at 86 pitches but Farrell went to lefthander Tommy Layne. That decision was predicated on Kelly coming out of his last start after only five innings because of discomfort in his shoulder.
“We had every intention to hold his pitch count down in that 85 range,” Farrell said. “He pitched exceptional tonight.”
Layne’s second pitch produced a foul pop by Dioner Navarro. Catcher David Ross had what looked like an easy play but the ball fluttered in the breeze and he dropped it. Navarro then singled to left field.
Farrell went to Tazawa, who leads the team with 63 appearances, and the results were not surprising. Valencia, ahead 2 and 0 in the count, got a fastball over the plate and lined it over the fence in left field for his third home run.
Kevin Pillar then doubled to left field. Toronto played for one more run, having Munenori Kawasaki bunt Pillar to third. When Jose Reyes grounded to shortstop, Pillar beat the throw from Brock Holt to give Toronto a three-run lead.
“The pitch to Valencia leaked back quite a bit and went inside,” Tazawa said. “I missed my location.”
Tazawa has done plenty of that against Toronto. The Blue Jays are 25 of 62 (.403) against Tazawa over the last two seasons with four doubles, two triples, and eight home runs. In 15 appearances he has thrown 13⅓ innings and allowed 13 earned runs.
Farrell indicated Tazawa was tipping his pitches against the Blue Jays but the problem had been corrected “probably 2½ months ago.”
Said Tazawa: “I think that I have already eradicated that.”
The Red Sox had righthanders Burke Badenhop, Edward Mujica, and Alex Wilson in their bullpen. Badenhop pitched two innings on Tuesday but Mujica, who has pitched well since the All-Star break, had appeared in only two of the last four games.
Farrell was comfortable going to Tazawa.
“Given where we were in the order and the history he’s had against the guys he was projected to face . . . he’s had his struggles against Encarnacion, against [Jose] Bautista, other guys in the top of the order,” the manager said.
“Coming off of [Tuesday] night where he was in the same part of the order and pitched exceptional. Certainly can’t run from him.”
Tazawa pitched a scoreless inning on Tuesday but did allow a double by Pillar.
Counting the postseason, Tazawa has appeared in 146 games the last two seasons. He paused a second when asked how he was holding up.
“I know I’ve been pitching a lot. I think it’s more that they have trust in me in putting me in that kind of situation. I just have to do a better job,” he said via translator C.J. Matsumoto.
Trust aside, is he feeling worn out?
“I don’t think I can make that as an excuse,” Tazawa said. “I don’t feel that way. Maybe it is affecting it. But I can’t tell you.”
The Sox had only five hits, one in the final three innings.
Marcus Stroman, a 23-year-old rookie righthander, had faced the Sox twice this season and shut them down, allowing one run on seven hits over 14 innings and striking out 15.
It was more of the same as he allowed two runs on five hits over 7⅔ innings with one walk and six strikeouts.
With the Sox down, 1-0, after a home run by Bautista in the first inning, Ross reached on an error in the sixth inning.
Singles by Holt and Dustin Pedroia loaded the bases. David Ortiz followed with a line drive to right-center. Ross scored and Holt should have, but he got a poor read on the ball and advanced only as far as third base.
For Ortiz it was his 12th RBI in his last 12 games. He was 2 for 4 after missing two games with a badly bruised right foot.
Holt’s mistake was rectified when he scored on a wild pitch.
With Pedroia at third and Ortiz at second, the Sox were set up for an even bigger inning. Mike Napoli hit the ball hard but Stroman snagged it, held Pedroia and got the out at first. Daniel Nava then struck out on four pitches.
Stroman and Brett Cecil retired 11 of the final 12 Sox batters.