TORONTO — The Red Sox were an out away from a desultory loss against the Toronto Blue Jays Wednesday night when struggling Mike Napoli hit a towering home run to tie the game.
The Sox were so excited that Dustin Pedroia gave Napoli a head butt when he returned to the dugout and David Ortiz ruffled his fingers through the first baseman’s bushy beard.
“Huge hit for Mike,” Pedroia said. “That could be what gets him going.”
The joy was fleeting. Brett Lawrie’s single through a drawn-in infield in the 10th inning gave the Blue Jays a 4-3 victory.
The Sox quickly will forget the result if the home run leads to Napoli getting hot after a strikeout-filled summer. But this was a bad loss against a last-place team.
Toronto traded second baseman Emilio Bonifacio to Kansas City before the game and started two players who were called up from the minors. Esmil Rogers, a poor pitcher banished to the bullpen over the weekend, started and allowed one run in six innings.
Outside of home runs by Napoli and Ortiz, the Red Sox didn’t seem very engaged. They committed three errors and were 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position.
After Napoli’s home run tied the game, the Sox left five runners on base.
With Tampa Bay winning, the Sox now lead the American League East by three games. They are 4-5 on a 10-game road trip that ends Thursday night with Jake Peavy facing former White Sox teammate Mark Buehrle.
Rajai Davis doubled to start the bottom of the 10th and advanced to third on a groundout. The Sox intentionally walked Edwin Encarnacion, believing that rookie righthander Brandon Workman could handle Lawrie.
“We wanted to face Lawrie,” manager John Farrell said. “I just wanted to take advantage of Workman’s breaking ball against [a righthanded hitter].”
The Sox did not hold Encarnacion at first base, afraid to leave a hole open on the right side, and he stole second.
With the infield in, Lawrie hit a ball hard up the middle. Shortstop Stephen Drew tried to make a diving catch, but the ball deflected off the webbing of his glove.
“It was unfortunate. I thought I had a bead on it until the very end when it took off on me,” Drew said. “It hit the very end of the web. Off the bat I thought I’d be able to catch it out there. But there was no shot.”
Workman (3-2) was ahead of Lawrie 1-and-2 but left a curveball over the plate.
“I didn’t locate the pitch as well as I needed to,” said Workman, who allowed one run in three innings of relief.
Sox starter Jon Lester went 6⅓ innings, giving up three runs, two earned. He left trailing, 3-1.
“Just all right. A little bit of a battle,” Lester said. “Didn’t feel like I had my best stuff tonight but was able to minimize damage when we had to and keep the guys within striking distance.”
Davis lined a ball off Lester’s left foot with one out in the third inning. Lester recovered and had a play at first base but rushed his underhand throw and it rolled into foul territory.
Davis, one of the fastest players in baseball, took off for third base. Right fielder Shane Victorino fired a throw that skipped past Will Middlebrooks. Davis scored without a play.
The Little League home run made it 1-0. The next two runs for Toronto were far more legitimate.
Encarnacion doubled to left field to start the fourth inning and scored on a double to right field by Mark DeRosa. Encarnacion then doubled to center field to start the sixth and scored on a two-out double to left by J.P. Arenciba.
The deep fly ball to the gap landed on the warning track and should have been caught by left fielder Jonny Gomes.
Encarnacion was 5 for 33 (.152) against Lester entering the game.
Rogers had an 8.50 earned run average in his previous eight starts and was taken out of the rotation Sunday. He got a reprieve when Josh Johnson went on the disabled list.
The Sox seemed sure to jump on Rogers in the first inning when Jacoby Ellsbury struck out but reached on a wild pitch and Victorino walked.
But Pedroia and Ortiz struck out swinging before Gomes popped to right field.
The Sox had one hit in each of the next four innings but never threatened to score. They finally got to Rogers in the sixth inning when Ortiz launched a slider deep into the bleachers in right center for his 23d home run.
Ortiz has 32 career home runs at Rogers Centre, his most at any ballpark outside of Fenway.
Toronto pitchers had retired nine in a row before Gomes drew a one-out walk in the ninth inning against Brett Cecil. Drew struck out, bringing Napoli up.
Farrell had dropped Napoli into the seventh spot of the order because of a protracted slump. As he came to the plate, Napoli had six hits in his previous 53 at-bats with 25 strikeouts.
Cecil’s second pitch was a sinker that stayed up and Napoli hit a long home run the other way to right field, his 15th of the season.
The shot snapped an 0-for-16 skid [with 10 strikeouts] for Napoli.
“It felt good to do something like that, to come through in a situation. Obviously I’ve been struggling a little bit,” Napoli said. “Keep grinding, got a pitch I could drive.”
Wednesday night was only the third time in the last 19 games that Napoli didn’t strike out at least once. Perhaps the home run will provide the spark he needs.
The Sox had a chance to take the lead after the home run. Jarrod Saltalamacchia doubled, Middlebrooks was hit by a pitch, and Ellsbury singled. But Victorino, who drove in two runs in the 11th inning to win the game Tuesday night, popped to left.
The Sox left two runners on base in the 10th when Napoli grounded to third.