After sweeping the Orioles earlier in the week, Toronto was on the verge of getting swept on its home turf by the surging Red Sox, but the Blue Jays snapped a mini two-game skid and tied Boston in the American League East standings in the process.
Jose Bautista provided the offense with a three-run homer in the first, Drew Hutchison turned in another solid performance and the Blue Jays got a little help from the other side to beat the Red Sox, 5-1, at Rogers Centre on Sunday.
"A good win, a much-needed win," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said. "Also good to see us score some runs in the first inning to give us a little bit of breathing room."
The Blue Jays took advantage of a rough start from Red Sox starter Daniel Bard. Bard walked the first two batters of the game, which set the stage for Bautista, who didn't waste the run-scoring opportunity.
Bautista was down 1-2 in the count to Bard, worked it full and then fouled off two pitches before connecting on a no-doubter to left field, his 14th home run of the season, to give Toronto an early 3-0 lead.
The slugger has started off the month hot, hitting home runs in consecutive games after launching nine in May to earn Toronto's Player of the Month award. It's a stark contrast to how the All-Star performed in April. Bautista hit just three homers and was batting .181 after the first month of the season, but he has since provided adequate production and has shaken off the early struggles, which Farrell believed had more to do with timing than anything else.
"When he gets pitches on the plate, we're able to see what he's capable of doing," Farrell said. "He has been pitched tough, he has expanded the zone at times on his own approach, but when he stays with a consistent approach and he has an understanding of what the strike zone is going to be, he's one of the most feared hitters in baseball. Today is not a surprise, but the timing as we got through the first month has been much more consistent."
Bautista, who was chasing pitches out of the strike zone more often than usual during the first month, believes it's just about being more selective.
"It's just a matter of picking and choosing a good pitch to hit," said Bautista, who had a season-high four RBIs and increased his average to .226. "I was able to do that in my first at-bat, and that's why I hit a home run."
It took Bard 28 pitches to get out of the first, and things didn't get any better for him the following frame.
Bard once again walked the first two batters of the inning, and he later loaded the bases after hitting Yunel Escobar. That put Bautista in another position to do damage, but he drew the bases-loaded walk after Bard lost complete confidence in his fastball and threw him back-to-back sliders. Bard hit one more batter, Edwin Encarnacion, to bring in another run, before being removed with his team down, 5-0.
Encarnacion was forced to leave the game in the fifth inning and had precautionary tests done on his right hand, which revealed no fractures. He's day to day.
It was the shortest start of Bard's career, as he continues to struggle in his transition from reliever to starter. Bard, 26, lasted 1 2/3 innings, surrendering five runs -- all earned -- on only one hit, but he walked six and hit two batters. Out of Bard's 55 pitches, only 24 of them were thrown for strikes.
"How much do you like 95-mph fastballs flying by you?" Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia said about Bard's wildness. "Not the most exciting at-bats. He's got good stuff, too. ... He's got really good stuff, it's just that when somebody is firing away like that and kind of missing, you almost are defensive to not get hit."
Hutchison, meanwhile, earned his fourth victory in his past five starts to improve to 5-2 on the year. He has a 2.70 ERA over that stretch and has hit up to 95 mph on the gun in his past two outings. Hutchison believes the increased velocity is because he has found his proper arm slot and release point.
Other than a Kelly Shoppach solo homer to right in the fifth, Boston was unable to put anything across the board against Hutchison, who lasted seven innings, allowing five hits while walking one and striking out five.
"Hutchison had a good-moving fastball, threw it consistently and threw it almost exclusively in the first couple of innings," Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said. "It looked like it was moving. He threw it for strikes, did a good job."
Hutchison also hit two batters of his own, including Kevin Youkilis on his upper left arm in the sixth inning that got the veteran a little riled up. Youkilis seemed to gesture to Hutchison that he should have hit him lower, assuming the pitch was in retaliation for Bard's plunkings, and Arencibia had to calm him down. Hutchison insisted the pitch wasn't intentional, saying he was actually trying to go away, while Arencibia stuck up for his starter.
"I can't say what that conversation was like," Arencibia said. "On the field, sometimes hot heads come about, and I know if there is one thing, I'm not going to allow or accept anyone screaming at anyone on my team, and for that matter a pitcher. It is what it is -- we definitely weren't trying to hit him in that situation.
"My job as a catcher as well is to not let anything happen to our pitcher and make sure that, if he's going to do anything, he doesn't get there."
Toronto ended its homestand with a 4-2 record in front of 41,925 -- the second consecutive draw over 40,000. The total for the three-game set was just shy of 115,000.
Chris Toman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.