"We play from the first day of Spring Training, and this is the goal," said Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell. "I know it wasn't the ideal thing, and you'd probably much rather do it on the field after a victory, but you know, we battled hard all year to get to this point. I don't care how it comes. We deserve to celebrate just like the other teams that have made the playoffs. We're excited to be here. This is hopefully step one. I think we've got our team where we want it to be, and we're excited."
With the lights off at Fenway Park shortly before 1 a.m. ET, Boston nailed down the AL Wild Card spot that it had control of for a couple of weeks. The clinching was delayed gratification of sorts, thanks to the Red Sox losing five in a row and seven of their past nine.
But Boston players felt no need to apologize for their path to October.
"We lost tonight, but we're faced in this situation, because we've done better in the regular season and we've worked our way to get here," said Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. "Even not winning this game tonight, you [still] move into the playoffs, so it's a celebration."
Once the Red Sox lost, there was a bizarre feeling in the clubhouse. Some players packed up and went home, while others milled around and watched the Rangers-Angels game on television. Ortiz said he would go out to a local establishment and then return to Fenway if the Rangers gave him reason to celebrate. Rookie reliever Daniel Bard went to his apartment across the street to have a late-night dinner, but he was prepared to return and enjoy the clinching moment with his teammates.
By the time the Rangers lost, Lowell and left fielder Jason Bay estimated that close to 90 percent of the players on Boston's roster was on hand for the clubhouse celebration.
"It's a little different waiting around for another game to end, but at the same time, any time you get to the playoffs, ultimately that's where you want to be," said Bay. "I don't see how this would ever get old."
Before the delayed celebration, it was a roller-coaster loss against the Blue Jays.
Despite three home runs by Adam Lind -- and six by the Blue Jays overall -- the Red Sox didn't quit, even when they trailed, 8-2.
Instead, the bats came alive in a big way in a five-run bottom of the eighth. Kevin Youkilis and Ortiz both belted RBI doubles, and J.D. Drew's three-run blast put the Sox within one.
But that was as close as they got, as Blue Jays closer Jason Frasor turned in a scoreless ninth. Even that didn't come without a scare. Jacoby Ellsbury struck a one-out opposite-field single to left. Then Dustin Pedroia ripped a drive to right-center that landed just in front of the bullpen wall. After a walk to Victor Martinez, Youkilis struck out looking on a 3-2 pitch to end the game.
"We tried, but it didn't work out," said Ortiz. "It's crazy. These guys, they came out and they've been hitting the [heck] out of the ball the last two days. Not much you can do about it."
Even still, Fenway was full of energy in the past two innings, as the Red Sox pushed for what could have been a most dramatic clincher.
"That happens in this ballpark," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona, who got on a flight after the game to attend his son's graduation from military school. "If we just show some life, the crowd goes crazy and we've seen it a lot of times. It didn't happen, but we've had games where we've won like that. Just try to get the trying run to the plate and give yourself a chance. Or in this case, the winning run. We had speed on the bases, we had a great hitter up, but he threw a fastball and [Youkilis] was frozen."
Early on, the night had a decidedly down feel for the Red Sox. Clay Buchholz -- who had given up just four home runs over his previous 58 1/3 innings -- got rocked for a career-high five home runs over five innings.
The six long balls by the Blue Jays were the most allowed by the Red Sox since the Tigers swatted seven on Aug. 6, 2004.
"On the home runs, on a couple of them at least, they were sitting on soft two-strike [pitches]," Buchholz said. "Some days you've got it, some days you don't. The stuff was there, and I felt like the velocity was good. Whenever they got a pitch up in the zone, they hit it."
Buchholz came in with a 6-0 record in his past eight starts, posting a 2.40 ERA in the process. Not only that, but he had allowed one run or fewer in his past four starts.
But the righty got knocked around right from the outset in this one. His very first pitch was hit over the Green Monster by Jose Bautista. Lind made it 3-0 with a two-run shot to center. Travis Snider's RBI single put the Red Sox in a four-run hole before they even took a swing against Jays starter Ricky Romero.
"Well, I think it was one of those days," said Martinez. "He was pitching up in the zone today. Everything he threw was like middle up. They have a lot of good hitters. They didn't miss at all."
In particular, Lind didn't miss, as he put on a show. It was the first time a visiting player hit three homers at Fenway since Sept. 15, 1996, when Frank Thomas did so with the White Sox. And that wasn't the only Big Hurt crossover reference. It was the first time a Jays player hit three homers in a game since Thomas did the trick against -- yes -- the Red Sox, back on Sept. 17, 2007.
"I hit three home runs once in high school," said Lind. "I guess I've been there once before, but to do it here at Fenway Park is pretty special."
Not even a career night by Lind, however, could derail the Red Sox.
"On a night you get to throw champagne around, you have a little bit of fun," said Bay. "I think that everyone is entitled to that."