BOSTON -- The magic number hasn't moved since the Red Sox returned to Fenway Park for their final homestand of the season. And after Chris Sale gave up a season-high four homers in Tuesday night's 9-4 loss to Blue Jays, Boston's lead in the American League East shrank to three with five games left in the season.
The magic number is also three, meaning any combination of Red Sox wins and Yankees losses equaling that number will clinch the second consecutive division title for Boston. When the Sox left Cincinnati on Sunday, they held a five-game lead in the division.
"We've set ourselves up nice this year," Sale said. "We've played hard. We're going to continue to play hard until the deed is done. Like I said, come back tomorrow ready to go. Can't let this kind of stuff linger, we're too good of a ball team. We've been playing really good lately, I just went out there and stunk it up for us. Didn't give us a chance to win, and that's on me."
Boston has lost the first two of this three-game series to the last-place Blue Jays, who seem to be enjoying the chance to play spoiler. In particular, Josh Donaldson seems to be enjoying himself. The third baseman belted two home runs, and has three in the series. The same can be said for Teoscar Hernandez, who ripped two of the five long balls Toronto hit on the night.
Jays left-hander J.A. Happ was dominant en route to his 10th win, allowing four hits and one run while walking none and striking out nine.
The earliest the Red Sox can clinch the division is Thursday, when they host the Astros, the team they are currently on track to face in the AL Division Series. Boston did clinch a postseason berth last week.
"We're not going to be given anything, so you have to go out there and earn it," Red Sox left fielder Andrew Benintendi said. "That's baseball. That's, what, two losses in a row? All it takes is one win to turn it around. We're still in a good position. We've just got to go out and compete and play a good baseball game."
Sale came out powerful, striking out seven in his first three innings. But so, too, did Donaldson, who smashed solo homers in the first and third to get Toronto out to a 2-1 lead.
It was a surprising turn of events, considering Sale hadn't given up a run in his first three starts and 22 innings against the Blue Jays this season.
"I just think our approach was different, I don't know if it was anything else besides that," Donaldson said. "He's definitely morphed into a different type of pitcher than what I've seen over the past four seasons, and he's a very good pitcher. Today, we did a pretty good job of executing, and I'll leave it at that."
In the fifth, Hernandez and Kendrys Morales both went deep, marking just the second time Sale has given up four homers in a start in his career. The ace came out after five innings and 92 pitches, having allowed eight hits and five runs while walking two and striking out eight.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Morales' homer spreads it out: Even after giving up the three solo shots, Sale and the Red Sox were still right in the game, down 3-1 with two outs in the fifth. But Morales belted a two-run shot that made it a four-run deficit, which loomed large against Boston's under-manned lineup. It was homer No. 28 on the year for Morales, and it barely cleared the Monster.
"I'm still doing what I can out there," Sale said. "Just sometimes it doesn't work out. You can't have a good day at work every day. Unfortunately, what I do is amplified because we're here and we're in the thick of it."
Happ wiggles out of trouble: There weren't many chances for the Red Sox, but they put runners on first and second with one out on singles by Xander Bogaerts and Young in the sixth. But Happ regained his rhythm, getting Benintendi on a popup and striking out Hanley Ramirez. That lost opportunity became magnified when the Jays put a four-spot on the board in the eighth to take a 9-1 lead.
"I went back and looked at some of the at-bats from this game and I felt like it's a good one to potentially end on," Happ said after his last start of the year. "I felt I was on the edges of the plate a lot using pretty much the whole arsenal. It was a good way of attacking and getting ahead of guys … a strong way to finish."
"He's got something special in there. It's a short, compact swing, really an effortless swing." -- Blue Jays manager John Gibbons on Hernandez, who has five homers in his last five games
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With 308 strikeouts on the season, Sale is five away from tying Pedro Martinez for the club record set in 1999. It remains to be seen if Sale will get another start should the Red Sox clinch the division before Sunday.
Donaldson leads the Majors with 15 first-inning home runs this season. That's just three shy of Alex Rodriguez's 2001 mark for the most in Major League history. Donaldson also became just the fourth player to record a multi-homer game off Sale. Miguel Cabrera, Eric Hosmer and Ryan Raburn have also done it.
WHAT'S NEXT Blue Jays: Right-hander Marco Estrada (10-8, 4.70 ERA) will make his final start of the season when the three-game series wraps up on Wednesday with first pitch scheduled for 7:10 p.m. ET at Fenway Park. Estrada is finishing the year strong, having allowed three earned runs or fewer in six of his last seven outings.
Red Sox: Right-hander Rick Porcello (10-17, 4.55 ERA) makes his final start of the regular season on Wednesday in hopes of helping his team avoid a sweep in this three-game series. Porcello will try to leave a strong impression in advance of manager John Farrell setting his rotation for a potential AL Division Series matchup with the Astros or Indians. Porcello gave up a grand slam to Scooter Gennett in the first inning of his last start against the Reds on Friday, coming out after four innings.