TORONTO -- The Blue Jays had lost four straight and seemed to be reeling, but on Saturday afternoon against the Red Sox, they proved they won't be going down in the American League East without a fight.
Toronto's offense remained relatively stagnant, but the pitching picked up the slack in a 3-2 victory over the first-place Red Sox at Rogers Centre. The win cut Boston's AL East lead to one game with one game remaining in this crucial series.
Left-hander J.A. Happ did most of the heavy lifting, allowing just two runs on four hits over six-plus innings. He walked one and struck out five, and his 18 victories rank as the second-best total by a Blue Jays left-handed starter. Toronto also received scoreless outings from Joaquin Benoit, Jason Grilli and Roberto Osuna to close things out.
"We had better energy than we've had in a while today," said Happ, who added that a pregame players-only meeting proved to be beneficial. "I think we had just a general good feeling about it. It was a fun game and from first pitch to last, it seemed like our dugout was really into this one."
Lefty Eduardo Rodriguez did his part despite Boston's loss. He allowed three (two earned) on four hits over six innings and escaped a couple of jams to keep the Red Sox within striking distance. Rodriguez's biggest mistake came in the second when Melvin Upton Jr. hit a two-run shot to left field for his 20th homer.
After scoring 13 runs Friday, the Red Sox were shut down.
"Anytime you don't finish out a game, there's frustration in and of itself, regardless of the score," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "There are pitchers we're going to go up against the remainder of this way and hopefully beyond that are going to be quality starters. To me, it's just a matter of the relentless approach that we're capable of. I'm not saying we didn't today, but that needs to be more of the norm."
Toronto is one game ahead of Baltimore for the first Wild Card. The Orioles beat the Tigers, 11-3, on Saturday night to take a one-game lead for the second Wild Card.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Redemption for Upton: Upton heard it from Toronto's fans when he made a series of miscues in left field during the series opener, but he tried to make up for that in the rematch. The veteran outfielder gave the Blue Jays a lead in the second with a two-run shot to left field. According to Statcast™, Upton's 20th homer was projected to travel 408 feet and left his bat at 107 mph. Upton, who later stole his 26th base, has reached 20 homers and 20 steals for the fourth time in his career and the first time since 2012.
"Two guys that took a lot of heat last night came through for us," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "Upton with the big home run and Devon [Travis] continues to swing the bat. Everybody loves a winner and rightfully so." More >
Pedroia gets bats going: The Red Sox generated just one hit off Happ in the first five innings. But red-hot leadoff man Dustin Pedroia breathed some life into the Boston dugout by opening the sixth with a homer over the wall in left. An inning later, the Red Sox sliced the deficit to a run. It was Pedroia's first home run since July 31 and 13th of the season.
"They've got a really good lineup," Pedroia said. "We just couldn't find a way to get a couple more runs. [Happ] did a great job."
Bautista comes up big: Boston entered the seventh trailing by two, but had runners on the corners with nobody out. Happ was removed from the game and Benoit entered and was able to escape the jam with just one run allowed but he needed a lot of help from his right fielder. Jose Bautista made a nice running grab in shallow center field for the first out and then slammed into the wall with a leaping catch for the second out. One run scored, but Benoit struck out pinch-hitter Travis Shaw as Toronto escaped with the lead intact.
"He stayed with both of those balls, that was huge," Happ said of Bautista. "Obviously probably not being at 100 percent out there, he's still finding a way to make those plays. It was huge. That really could have turned the tides right there so two big plays for sure."
Moncada loses track of outs: Before the game, Farrell confirmed that top prospect Yoan Moncada would mostly be relegated to bench duty for the rest of the season. Part of that role is being ready for each situation mentally, and the 21-year-old appeared to lose track of outs when he pinch-ran for David Ortiz in the eighth. On a popup to short right field by Mookie Betts, Moncada went halfway and actually retreated back toward first when second baseman Devon Travis made the catch. The problem is that there were two outs when Betts came to the plate and Moncada should have been running the entire time.
"Yeah, that's an elementary play, to be honest with you, at this level," said Farrell. "Two outs, you're on the move no matter what direction the ball is going in. That's been addressed and will continue to be addressed." More >
"I know something I've learned is that the heart of the order usually comes up somewhere between 90-95 percent of the time in the eighth inning. I relish that. When I was with Pittsburgh, that's what gave me the opportunity to close. Getting three outs in those late innings, there's a handful of guys that we got who are capable of doing that and when the ball is given to us we're all going out, what a heck of a job by the pitching staff today." -- Grilli, who retired Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts and Betts in the eighth
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After struggling in August, the Red Sox's bullpen has rebounded in a big way in September, holding opponents scoreless over 14 2/3 innings this month.
The Red Sox slipped to 4-30 when they score fewer than three runs.
Benoit has not allowed a run in his 18 games since joining the Blue Jays (17 1/3 innings) while striking out 18. Before joining Toronto at the end of July, Benoit had posted a 4.94 ERA with 14 earned runs over 24 1/3 innings.
In the third, Travis was off on contact from second on a grounder to short by Josh Donaldson. Bogaerts alertly threw to third, where Aaron Hill slapped down the tag. Initially, Travis was called safe. But Farrell issued a challenge and the call was overturned.
WHAT'S NEXT Red Sox: The rejuvenated Clay Buchholz gets the ball in the rubber game of this three-game showdown Sunday at 1:07 p.m. ET. Buchholz has split the season between the rotation and the bullpen, but has fared well as a starter of late. Last time out, he beat the Padres by allowing one run over 6 2/3 innings.
Blue Jays: Right-hander Aaron Sanchez (13-2, 2.92) will take the mound when the Blue Jays close out their pivotal series vs. the Red Sox. Sanchez ranks second in the AL in ERA and is coming off a pair of outings in which he allowed three earned runs over a combined 13 innings.