How sweet it is!
With a playoff spot already sewn up the Red Sox could have simply mailed it in Friday night – or any other night for that matter from now until the playoffs. They could have cruised through their series against the lowly Blue Jays, sweating out Tampa Bay while the Orioles and Rays scratched one another’s eyes out down the stretch. What was on display, however, was the same old grinding 94-win bunch that Boston fans have come to love. And the results, like so many times before, were the same only this time it finished with a Fenway Park post-game fan fest and a clubhouse champagne shower as the Sox finished first in the AL East for the first time since 2007.
Dustin Pedroia doubled to lead off Boston’s first inning, moved to third on a Daniel Nava fly out and scored on a wild pitch. That’s how it has gone for the Red Sox and, conversely, the Blue Jays this season.
By the third inning, the Boston wrecking crew had Blue Jays’ starter Esmil Rogers firmly stuffed into the torture chamber, making him throw 60 plus pitches while walking four overall and three in a row to force in Boston’s second run. Jays manager John Gibbons had seen enough. Rogers was yanked. He was livid and even though the Jays got out of the inning it felt like the die was cast.
Not so fast. With nothing to lose it’s easy to play loose and that’s just what the Jays did, shrugging off Boston’s early lead and loading the bases (walk, error, single) with nobody out in the fourth inning against Sox starter Jon Lester. And then quirkiest of plays proved why Toronto deserves to be in last place. Will Middlebrooks took a hot grounder near third base, stepped on the bag and fired home to trap Kevin Pillar in a 5-2-5-2 double play that suddenly had Toronto in a much less threatening first and second, two-out posture. When Lester punched out J.P. Arencibia to end the inning and preserve the 2-0 lead Fenway rocked as the Jays rolled over.
That’s not to say it was easy. Lester was in and out of hot water through six innings, snared in situations that were not entirely his own doing. The Red Sox committed two errors and he walked a few hitters too, causing him to throw 123 pitches and eventually give up a run. Through the sixth the Blue Jays had runners on base in every inning after going down 1, 2, 3 in the first.
The game stayed tight until Boston broke it open with a three-run seventh on back-to-back-to-back singles by Jackie Bradley Jr., Pedroia and Nava to load the bases. David Ortiz singled so score Bradley. Mike Carp dealt the death blow with a two-run single to score Nava and Ortiz.
Junichi Tazawa, who was not sharp in relief, opened the door for Toronto and made the game closer than it should have been by giving up an Adam Lind two-run homer in the eighth. After he allowed a single to Moises Sierra Farrell replaced him with closer Koji Uehara, who got out of the inning with no more damage.
The Sox broke back in the bottom of the frame, getting a run on a Pedroia single that scored Middlebrooks to make it 6-3 Boston.
Uehara, although less sharp than previous outings, put the Jays down in the ninth after allowing a single to Jose Reyes to seal the deal and cap a most improbable and entertaining season. As Dennis Eckersley said with just one out remaining and the Fenway Faithful rising as one, “Wow, what a difference a year makes, huh?” With the win, Boston bagged their 94th victory of the season.
The team stormed the field, donned WE OWN THE EAST sweatshirts and it was never more true. This group had gone nearly start to finish in first place. They had weathered adversity and been tested by opponents yet won the championship fully nine days before the end of the regular season. GM Ben Cherington hugged each player as they came through the clubhouse door. The champagne celebration was on. Sox win!