Sox edged by Jays, fall behind Tribe for home field
By Gregor Chisholm and Ian Browne
BOSTON -- The Blue Jays are one win away from securing their spot in the postseason for the second consecutive year.
Toronto's magic number to clinch an American League Wild Card spot dropped to 1 after a 4-3 victory over the Red Sox on Saturday night at Fenway Park. The Blue Jays also received some help from the out-of-town scoreboard as both the Orioles and the Tigers lost to guarantee that Toronto will extend its season beyond Sunday. The Blue Jays can clinch the top AL Wild Card spot with a win Sunday and are guaranteed to at least play a tiebreaker game, if necessary.
The Blue Jays and Orioles are tied for the top AL Wild Card spot after Baltimore lost to New York, 7-3, earlier in the day. Detroit dropped to 1 1/2 games back of both teams with a 5-3 loss to the Braves, while the Mariners were eliminated from postseason contention with a 9-8 loss to Oakland. If Toronto and Baltimore finish as the only two teams tied for the top spot, the Blue Jays would host the AL Wild Card Game because of a better head-to-head record. The Blue Jays also hold the tiebreaker over the Tigers.
"It's easy to stay in the moment when you know if you don't perform, you are going home," said Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar, who went 2-for-3 with three RBIs. "We didn't put this much work in to fold up shop and go home. We're going to compete until the last out."
Boston may have clinched the AL East earlier this week, but it still has plenty on the line with one game to go as well. The Red Sox fell to a half-game back of the Indians with home-field advantage on the line for their upcoming matchup in the AL Division Series. The Indians have two games left, including Monday's makeup game against the Tigers, if necessary, and the Red Sox own the tiebreaker if both sides finish with the same record. The only way Boston can clinch home-field in the Division Series by Sunday would be a win over Toronto combined with a Cleveland loss at Kansas City.
"At this point, we're looking to win tomorrow," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "We want to keep the pressure on Cleveland, and we've stated all along that home field is important to us and we won't back away from that at this point."
Saturday's game involved plenty of drama, but left-hander J.A. Happ and Pillar were the main reasons Toronto carried a 3-2 lead into the eighth inning. Happ allowed two runs over 6 1/3 innings, while Pillar added a pair of singles and three RBIs. The Blue Jays then coughed up the lead in the eighth on a balk by closer Roberto Osuna, but they took control once again in the ninth on a sacrifice fly by Ezequiel Carrera.
Red Sox lefty Eduardo Rodriguez allowed three runs on three hits and five walks while striking out nine over five-plus innings. Chris Young laced a two-run single in the first and David Ortiz went 1-for-2 with a single in his second-to-last regular-season game for Boston.
"It's like I'm more nervous when other people are out there than when I'm out there sometimes, watching those games from inside," Happ said of his emotions after leaving the game. "We find a way to win when we needed to and tonight was a big game. It's kind of the same scenario for tomorrow. We took care of business and got the win tonight."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED A balk to remember: In the eighth, Osuna was receiving the signs from catcher Russell Martin when he moved and was called for the obvious balk. Mookie Betts was awarded home plate and the game was tied. But the Blue Jays were able to recover in the bottom half of the frame after Michael Saunders walked, pinch-runner Dalton Pompey advanced to second on a bunt, went to third on a wild pitch and then scored on a sacrifice fly by Carrera.
"I was really happy to win this game knowing this was like a playoff game for us, especially because of what happened in the eighth inning," Osuna said through an interpreter. "[Martin] called for a cutter, and on my way up to my windup I changed my mind, but it was too late." More >
Kimbrel struggling at closing time: Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel has struggled in his last three outings and took the loss on Saturday. Pitching three times in the last four days, Kimbrel has issued six walks in just two innings. Farrell said Kimbrel will remain in the closing role in the AL Division Series. Mechanical adjustments have been at the root of his recent troubles.
"You get into some bad habits when you get a little rotational," said Kimbrel. "I felt like tonight I was a little better. A leadoff walk you never want to do. And a cross-up led to a sac fly. Overall I felt all right. It's just a leadoff walk and a cross-up right there, and it's a run." More >
Walk this way: Toronto evened the score at 2 in the second with a major assist from Rodriguez. Boston's lefty opened the inning by walking three consecutive batters, and Pillar eventually made him pay with a two-run single to left-center field. Pillar added another RBI single in the sixth that temporarily put Toronto up by one.
"We grinded out at-bats," Pillar said. "You take the good and bad. I feel like we had tons of opportunities to score in these last few games. Yesterday we couldn't come up with the big hit. Today we got some big ones and a sac fly."
Papi gets hit, leaves early: Ortiz was honored for the second of three times in his final regular-season weekend prior to Saturday's game. He reached in two of his three plate appearances and was replaced by pinch-runner Travis Shaw after belting a single to right in the fifth. With the wet grounds and the chilly conditions, it was an ideal opportunity for Farrell to get the big slugger off his feet.
"You know, after he grounded out, obviously we know what he's dealing with [physically], and under the conditions tonight and the way he got down the line in that second at-bat, we felt like three [at-bats] was enough here tonight," Farrell said. More >
"It's going to be special. I think it's just special to be in the same clubhouse with him in his last year. Seeing his last regular-season game and hopefully a lot more in the postseason will be special." -- Kimbrel, on Ortiz
"I was nervous bunting against Kimbrel. That was the only time I was. He's not an easy guy to bunt off of. He throws hard and is a little erratic. To go early and square around, it makes me nervous." -- Pillar, who bunted Pompey to second base in the ninth inning
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Rodriguez achieved a quirky stat, becoming just the third Major League pitcher since 1913 to strike out nine-plus batters while recording no more than 16 outs in consecutive starts.
The Blue Jays won their first game without hitting a home run since July 25 vs. San Diego. That snapped a 16-game losing streak in those situations.
WHAT'S NEXT Blue Jays: Right-hander Aaron Sanchez will take the mound when the Blue Jays aim to clinch the top AL Wild Card spot on Sunday afternoon against the Red Sox at 3:05 p.m. ET. Sanchez has faced Boston three times this year and has allowed 10 earned runs over 17 1/3 innings.
Red Sox: Lefty David Price will close out the regular season with an abbreviated start at Fenway Park leading into next week's AL Division Series against the Indians. Price struggled last time out, giving up 12 hits and six runs over 6 1/3 innings against the Yankees.