Xander Bogaerts made a rather awkward slide when he stole third base in the bottom of the eighth inning on Thursday night. Both of his legs were up in the air as he slid across the bag on his stomach, the brim of his helmet resting on his nose.
“I need to go feet-first. Head-first ain’t working. I need to find something else,” Bogaerts said.
Inelegant as it may have been, it was a game-changing play for the Red Sox.
After the bullpen gave away a two-run lead in the top of the inning, the Sox came back to beat the Toronto Blue Jays, 4-3, when Bogaerts scored on a dropped popup.
The Red Sox have won four straight and seven of nine. At 101-46, they are 55 games over .500 for the first time since the 1912 team finished 105-47.
The magic number to clinch the American League East title was reduced to six.
After the bullpen could not hold a 3-1 lead in the eighth, the Sox started their rally with one out in the bottom of the inning when Bogaerts doubled to left field off Danny Barnes.
That Bogaerts would at least try to steal third was inevitable. The Sox were 27 of 32 in stolen bases in 19 games against Toronto this season.
“We want to get to third base,” Sox manager Alex Cora said. “If we feel we can get there, we’re going to take a chance. Xander, he got a great jump, got there, and obviously it changes the whole situation.”
The steal forced Toronto to bring the infield in. All Blake Swihart needed was a fly ball but he popped the ball up behind second base and flung his bat away in disgust.
But second baseman Yangervis Solarte had to backpeddle and didn’t get positioned correctly. The ball deflected off his glove and Bogaerts scored.
Third base coach Carlos Febles saw how the play was developing and told Bogaerts to go halfway down the line.
“Anything can happen with a runner on third,” Bogaerts said. “Like what happened today, luck. That can win a game. If I’m on second, you have to have a hit for us to score.”
Craig Kimbrel retired the side in order in the ninth inning for his 40th save. It’s the fifth time in eight seasons as a closer that Kimbrel has recorded 40 or more saves.
The Sox finished 15-4 against the Blue Jays, winning 13 of the last 15 games.
Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez went six innings and 78 pitches in his third start since coming off the disabled list. He allowed one run on five hits and struck out seven without a walk.
Rodriguez retired the final nine batters he faced and turned a 3-1 lead over to the bullpen.
Ryan Brasier retired the side in order in the seventh. His postseason visa has just about been approved given a steady performance in higher-leverage situations this month.
Rookie lefthander Bobby Poyner, whom Cora wanted to see against righthanded hitters, started the eighth inning. He retired righthanded-hitting pinch hitter Danny Jansen, then allowed a home run to Lourdes Gurriel Jr., also a righthanded hitter.
Poyner was instructed to throw a high fastball. It was smack down the middle.
With two outs and the bases empty, Joe Kelly could not get an out.
Justin Smoak walked, Kendrys Morales singled, and Randal Grichuk was hit by a two-strike changeup to load the bases. Kelly then hit Kevin Pillar with a 100-m.p.h. fastball to force in the tying run.
“We went with Joe. As you saw it wasn’t a good one,” Cora said.
Kelly was on “The Jim Rome Show” earlier in the day saying he wanted to get an at-bat in the World Series.
“I love hitting. I take a lot of pride in it,” Kelly told Rome.
At this point, Kelly may not have a spot on the postseason roster. He has a 6.11 earned run average and 1.70 WHIP since June 1 and in his last 3⅓ innings has allowed five runs.
“He needs to get better. He needs to get better and he knows it,” Cora said. “We trust the guy. It’s two outs in the eighth, we’re expecting to go out there and get the out.”
The far more reliable Brandon Workman (5-0) came in and struck out pinch hitter Billy McKinney to finally end the inning.
Prior to the bullpen meltdown, the Sox were having an enjoyable night.
J.D. Martinez homered to right field in the second inning off Toronto starter Sam Gaviglio, his latest opposite-field shot. Martinez has 41 home runs and 122 RBIs.
Jackie Bradley Jr. doubled to lead off the third inning, took third when Andrew Benintendi grounded out, and scored on Ian Kinsler’s sacrifice fly to left field.
The lead went to 3-1 in the sixth inning when Rafael Devers homered deep into the seats beyond the Pesky Pole in right field off reliever Mark Leiter Jr.
It was Devers’s first home run since Aug. 8. He had been 1 for 11 since coming off the disabled list.
Devers entered the game as a pinch runner in the fourth inning when Eduardo Nunez left with a sore right knee following a slide into second base.
Nunez said he felt fine but could miss a day or two.