Big Papi heating up for Red Sox

Big Papi heating up for Red Sox

ST. PETERSBURG -- Even while losing two out of three to the Rays, something good happened to the Red Sox during their stay on the Gulf Coast of Florida. David Ortiz rediscovered his power stroke.

The left-handed masher belted three homers against Tampa Bay, and hopes that newfound groove clears customs with him for a three-game series at Toronto.

When Ortiz is locked in at the plate, the Red Sox are a different team.

"He's kind of what makes us go," said Red Sox catcher Kevin Cash. "If we've got [Dustin] Pedroia and Youk [Kevin Youkilis], that's huge, but then you add David into the mix, it really makes our lineup very potent."

Ortiz looked especially lethal Wednesday night when his second homer of the night soared into the D-ring catwalk in right field and never came down.

"That means I've still got it," Ortiz said.

Apparently so. Even though Ortiz missed seven weeks with his left wrist injury, he has 21 homers and 84 RBIs.

As for the wrist, there are still good days and bad days. But Ortiz is starting to regain his confidence.

"I'm trying not to think about [the wrist] right now," Ortiz said. "If I keep on playing like that, it doesn't matter."

Heading into Thursday's off-day, the Red Sox trail the Tampa Bay Rays by two games in the American League East, but lead the Twins by seven games in the Wild Card standings. Boston's magic number for clinching a playoff berth is four games.

"We've just got to keep pushing," said Red Sox shortstop Jed Lowrie. "We've got 10 games let. Just keep pushing."

Entering this three-game series against the Blue Jays, the Red Sox send Paul Byrd to the mound. Of course, Byrd is no stranger to the Blue Jays, having faced them three times already since joining the Red Sox on Aug. 12.

Byrd is 1-2 with a 6.38 ERA in those three starts.

"He's faced them quite a bit since he's been over here," said Cash. "Hopefully he'll use that to his advantage, knowing the hitters a little bit better. We need to go in and worry about Game 1 and take it from there. Game 1 will be big."

Pitching matchup
BOS: RHP Paul Byrd (11-12, 4.53 ERA)
Byrd was less than stellar in his last trip to the mound, a shelling at the hands of the red-hot Blue Jays at Fenway Park. Byrd went just five full innings, allowing five runs on 10 hits while striking out three. It was his second loss to Toronto at Fenway since being acquired by Boston in mid-August. In his last seven starts, Byrd has faced the Jays four times. So it seems fitting that his next start on Friday comes against Toronto. He is 2-2 in those four starts.

TOR: RHP A.J. Burnett (18-10, 4.19 ERA)
Pitching on three days' rest on Saturday afternoon, Burnett prolonged his recent hot stretch, turning in six strong innings in a win over the Red Sox. The right-hander allowed one unearned run on three hits with six strikeouts and three walks in the victory. In his last two outings -- both wins -- Burnett has allowed no earned runs on four hits with 13 strikeouts over 13 innings. Over his past 13 outings, Burnett is 9-2 with a 2.77 ERA, striking out 96 (at least seven in eight outings) and walking 26 during that span. Burnett is 5-0 with a 2.37 ERA in seven career starts against Boston.

Tidbits
LF Jason Bay will rejoin the Red Sox in Toronto after missing two games to witness the birth of his second child. ... The Red Sox are 37-42 on the road this season. ... The Sox took two out of three during their visit to Toronto in August. ... The Sox hope to get Mike Lowell (right hip injury) back in the lineup for the start of the series.

Tickets
 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• NESN

On radio
• WRKO 680, SBN 1150 (Español)

Up next
• Saturday: Red Sox (Jon Lester, 15-5, 3.15) at Blue Jays (Roy Halladay, 18-11, 2.77), 1:07 p.m. ET
• Sunday: Red Sox (Daisuke Matsuzaka, 17-2, 2.93) at Blue Jays (TBD), 1:07 p.m. ET
• Monday: Red Sox (Josh Beckett, 12-9, 3.96) vs. Indians (Zach Jackson, 0-3, 6.35), 7:05 p.m. ET

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.