In what was a tense contest throughout, the Red Sox found a way, keeping them just 1 1/2 games behind the Rays in the American League East.
And with the Twins losing to those Rays, Boston's magic number for clinching a playoff berth is down to two games.
The Red Sox could conceivably clinch on Saturday, but they would need to win, and have the Yankees -- and then either the Twins or White Sox -- lose.
"I'm probably the most excited guy here, because I was in last place a month and a half ago," said right-hander Paul Byrd, who kept the Sox in this one by allowing three runs over six innings. "The thing I like about this team so much, and I've said this before, they won it last year and you come over here and these guys are so hungry. They play so hard."
That grit showed in this one, for sure.
The bullpen was stingy, finishing this one with three shutout innings -- a combination of Javy Lopez, Manny Delcarmen, Hideki Okajima and closer Jonathan Papelbon. For Delcarmen, it was his first win since Aug. 31, 2006. He went 122 appearances between victories.
Meanwhile, Papelbon put himself in an adverse situation, rushing on an Adam Lind grounder to start the ninth and then sailing his throw well out of the reach of first baseman Kevin Youkilis. With Lind on second and nobody out, Papelbon never blinked, getting Scott Rolen on a liner, inducing Greg Zaun into a grounder to second and then striking out Travis Snider to end it.
It was a confidence booster for Papelbon, who struggled in a couple of outings last week.
The drama-filled ninth was a fitting way for a tense game to end.
"I was nervous," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "That was fun. That was a fun part of the game to be a part of. A lot [more enjoyable] when you win. I thought Pap threw the ball really well, because he had to. He created a runner on second. Once that guy got to second, he really [dug] down and made some good pitches."
Down, 2-0, the Red Sox managed to get to the always-nasty A.J. Burnett for a crucial rally in the fifth.
Varitek started it with an opposite-field double to left. Jacoby Ellsbury then reached on a bunt single, but was picked off first.
With two outs, Youkilis -- who was given the benefit of the doubt on a close call on a check swing that could have been strike three -- hammered an RBI single up the middle to cut the deficit to a run.
The big hit of the inning came from Sean Casey, who belted a two-run double off the wall in right to give the Sox a 3-2 lead. Casey is now 15-for-29 against Burnett lifetime.
"He has above-average stuff on all his pitches," said Casey. "He's one of those guys. If you can get him in trouble, you've got to take advantage of it. If you don't, he has the stuff to just shut the door. He left the door open a little bit for us right there, and Youk came up with a nice hit and I was able to get that two-run double and that was the difference for us."
But back came Toronto against Byrd in the bottom of the fifth. After a one-out single by Joe Inglett, Marco Scutaro smashed an RBI double, tying it at 3.
|Red Sox first baseman Sean Casey holds the highest batting average against Blue Jays right-hander A.J. Burnett.|
|Minimum 25 at-bats|
Byrd was highly displeased about that turn of events.
"I gave up two runs, but our offense did a great job and they scored three, and then I come right back out and give up a run," said Byrd. "I was pretty frustrated with that. The team eased my pain later and scored a run so it makes for better sleep for me because we won the game. Overall, I've got to find a way to be satisfied with keeping our team in the game."
And he was also satisfied with making a technical adjustment that he credits to a Red Sox fan website -- Sons of Sam Horn.
"I feel like I did OK, thanks to the Sons of Sam Horn website, the Boston fans writing me letters, letting me know that I'm tipping my pitches," said Byrd. "It's hard to pitch up here. You do one little thing wrong and it seems like everybody knows about it, because of the great TV coverage and scouting is so advanced now. I did have to work on that and talked to [pitching coach] John Farrell and switched things up, and I think it helped."
What type of adjustment did Byrd make?
"I was patting the glove a little bit on fastballs and some other things I was doing," Byrd said. "I was tipping them in some different ways."
A rare mental mistake by David Ortiz cost the Red Sox a chance at a rally in the seventh. With one out and Ortiz on first, Youkilis hit a routine fly ball to left. Ortiz must have thought there were two outs because he ran all the way to second before realizing his mistake. Snider's throw to first was in time for an inning-ending double play.
"He was about ready to shoot himself," Francona said. "He caught it just a little bit too late. You don't see that happen too often -- hopefully."
The move proved not to be costly, thanks to the rally in the eighth off lefty Brian Tallet, which was started by an infield hit by Bay. Tallet then walked Mark Kotsay and Jed Lowrie, giving Varitek a chance to get the eventual game-winner home.
"It was pretty, I thought," said Francona. "Good enough."