TORONTO — One day after the Red Sox endured a devastating walkoff loss to the Blue Jays — one that put a microscope on the absence-by-choice of unvaccinated closer Tanner Houck — manager Alex Cora refused to descend into self-pity.
“I’m not going to make excuses,” said Cora. “You give me 26 [players], we’ll do our best to get 27 outs and win.”
On Wednesday, his shorthanded team needed 30 outs to accomplish that feat. Along the way, they blew another late lead. Yet at key moments, the Sox’ resolve stiffened, buying time for the offense to erupt for three runs in the top of the 10th inning – just enough for the Sox to withstand a rally by the Jays to claim a sweep-avoiding 6-5 victory on their way out of Toronto.
“It was a battle tonight and we did better,” said starter Nick Pivetta. “Last night was last night, but we’re going to move on and we got a win here tonight, which was really important.”
It was a game befitting two contenders jockeying for position in their division and the wild-card race, with a succession of lead changes and ties that reflected the nip-and-tuck nature of two teams competing for October berths.
The Jays strung together a walk and two singles in the bottom of the second against Nick Pivetta to claim an early 1-0 advantage. But the Red Sox — after getting shut down completely by Toronto’s towering starter, Alek Manoah, through two innings — took a decidedly old-school approach in tying the score.
Franchy Cordero led off the inning with a bunt down the third-base line. A frustrated Manoah fired his glove at the ball but missed — an errant effort that proved fortunate for him, since Cordero would have been awarded third base had the detached equipment made contact.
Still, Cordero made his own way around the bases after the bunt single. He stole second and advanced to third on a throwing error by catcher Alejandro Kirk. And with one out, Rob Refsnyder continued his Joe Hardy audition by smashing a liner to the gap in left-center. Though Blue Jays centerfielder George Springer ran down the bid for extra bases, the sac fly tied the game, 1-1.
The game nearly went off the rails in the third, when Pivetta hit Kirk on the elbow with a fastball. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. stomped out of the dugout to question the pitcher’s intentions, and Pivetta advocated profanely for the cessation of the complaint. The protagonists stepped toward each other, prompting both benches and bullpens to stream into the infield, but the fracas quickly subsided without any physical altercation.
“I think it’s unwarranted, the way that they reacted,” said Pivetta. “I think it’s spare parts, for lack of a better term. I’m trying to win a baseball game.”
Pivetta needed time to lower his temperature, but did so by striking out Raimel Tapia to leave the bases loaded. But in the bottom of the fifth, George Springer unloaded on a 93 mile-per-hour fastball for a liner that narrowly cleared both the fence in center and Jackie Bradley Jr.’s glove for a solo homer that put Toronto ahead, 2-1.
That one-run advantage seemed sizable given Manoah’s continuation of dominance by the Blue Jays rotation against the Red Sox. But in the top of the sixth, a seemingly harmless Xander Bogaerts squibber to third with two outs turned into an infield single that extended the inning long enough for Manoah to leave a 95 m.p.h sinker over the plate to Alex Verdugo.
The Red Sox leftfielder demolished the offering, lining it into the seats in right for a two-run homer (his sixth homer of the year) that put his team ahead, 3-2. Verdugo seemed to relish the moment, circling the bases in unhurried fashion and peering into the Toronto dugout between third and home.
“I like what I’m seeing,” Pivetta said of Verdugo. “I like the flair.”
Pivetta, as has become his habit, stewarded that lead through the sixth inning. Though he departed after issuing a leadoff walk in the seventh, Pivetta delivered his 10th outing (in 16 starts) of at least six innings. The Sox starter added to his All-Star candidacy by limiting Toronto to two runs on five hits and three walks while striking out five, dropping his ERA to 3.23.
John Schreiber followed Pivetta’s leadoff walk in the seventh by shutting down the heart of the Blue Jays order — an effort assisted by a spectacular diving play by first baseman Cordero, who added to a night where he had a career-high four hits and two steals by making a spectacular diving grab of a Bo Bichette liner with a runner on second.
Still, the choice of Schreiber in the seventh – in a series without Houck and on a night when Tyler Danish and Hansel Robles were both unavailable after recent usage – left Cora trying to squeeze six outs from a shorthanded bullpen. The order proved too tall.
Ryan Brasier gave up back-to-back doubles in the eighth to Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Raimel Tapia, the second glancing off the glove of a diving Bradley in left-center for the game-tying run. The blown save marked the 16th of the year for the Red Sox bullpen, tied for second-most in baseball.
But Brasier bounced back with a pair of strikeouts to keep the game tied, and Matt Strahm tossed a scoreless ninth against the meat of the Jays lineup to send the game to extras.
In the top of the 10th, a combination of the automatic runner and a pair of walks loaded the bases for J.D. Martinez, who accepted a 91 m.p.h cutter in the middle of the back for a run-producing free pass that put the Sox up, 4-3.
Though lefty Tim Mayza nearly shut off the rally at that point by getting a 3-2-3 double play from Bogaerts, Verdugo drilled a two-out double to left-center to plate two additional runs and give the Sox their first multi-run advantage of the series. Strahm needed that cushion, allowing two runs on three straight two-out hits before retiring Springer on a pop-up for the hard-fought 30th out.
With the win, the Sox left Toronto a half-game ahead of the Blue Jays and the return of Houck and Duran looming for their weekend series in Chicago. And despite the series loss, the Sox closed out the month of June with a 20-6 record – a .769 winning percentage that is the sixth-best in franchise history for a month with at least 25 games.
“We put ourselves in the playoff hunt. At one point, we had to really grind to get to here and now we’re playing good baseball,” said Cora. “It’s a good baseball team that keeps trying to find ways to improve.”