The Red Sox nearly blew another late lead against the Blue Jays on Wednesday night, but instead held on for a drama-filled, 6-5 win in 10 innings to avoid a three-game sweep at the hands of their division rivals.
Nick Pivetta, making his 16th start of the season for Boston, allowed two runs on five hits, three walks, and one hit batsman to go along with five strikeouts over six-plus innings of work.
The Canadian-born right-hander ran into some early trouble when he issued a leadoff walk to Alejandro Kirk to begin things in the bottom of the second. Kirk moved up to second and later scored from there on an RBI single from former Red Sox prospect Santiago Espinal to give the Blue Jays a 1-0 lead.
The Sox quickly responded, however, as Franchy Cordero led off the third with a bunt single off Jays starter Alek Manoah. Cordero proceeded to steal second and advance to third on a throwing error before scoring his side’s first run on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Rob Refsnyder.
Pivetta, meanwhile, kept Toronto off the board in the latter half of the third despite putting himself in a jam. The righty gave up a one-out single to Bo Bichette and plunked Kirk in the elbow with a 94 mph fastball. It was not intentional but the Blue Jays dugout, particularly Vladimir Guerrero Jr. still took exception.
After Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo left his dugout to chat with home plate umpire D.J. Reyburn, Guerrero Jr. took to the field as he was jawing back and forth with Pivetta. While there was no exchange of fists, both benches and bullpens cleared to momentarily delay the game.
Once the dust had settled from that skirmish, Pivetta walked the very next batter he faced to fill the bases. That prompted a mound visit from pitching coach Dave Bush, and it paid dividends as Pivetta fanned Raimel Tapia on four pitches to retire the side.
On the heels of a 1-2-3 fourth inning, Pivetta encountered more leadoff trouble in the fifth when he served up a go-ahead, 413-foot solo shot to George Springer.
Again, though, Toronto’s newfound lead did not last long. With two outs in the sixth, Xander Bogaerts reached base via an infield single. A red-hot Alex Verdugo followed by getting ahead in the count against Manoah at 2-0 and then crushing 95 mph heater 399 feet to right field to put Boston ahead for the first time.
Verdugo’s sixth home run of the season left his bat at 107 mph and gave the Sox a 3-2 lead. Pivetta took that lead into the seventh before issuing a leadoff walk to Cavan Biggio, who proved to be the final Blue Jay he would face.
Finishing with a final pitch count of 109 (72 strikes), Pivetta got eight of his 15 swings-and-misses with his four-seamer, a pitch he threw 56 times and topped out at 95.8 mph with. The 29-year-old did not factor into Wednesday’s decision, though he did lower his ERA on the season to 3.23.
In relief of Pivetta, John Schreiber got the first call out of the Boston bullpen and immediately negated the runner he inherited by getting Springer to ground into a force out at second base. Schreiber then stranded Springer by retiring Bichette and Guerrero Jr. back-to-back.
Still up 3-2 going into the eighth, the Red Sox next turned to Ryan Brasier, who surrendered back-to-back one-out doubles to Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Tapia. Tapia drove in the pinch-running Bradley Zimmer with his two-base hit to knot things up at three runs apiece.
After Jordan Romano and Matt Strahm each traded zeroes in the ninth, Jackie Bradley Jr. took second base to begin the 10th inning. Matched up against veteran reliever David Phelps now, Refsnyder and Rafael Devers drew back-to-back walks to fill the bases with no outs for J.D. Martinez.
Martinez, in turn, took a 91 mph cutter off the back, which allowed Bradley Jr. to score from third and keep the bases loaded for Bogaerts, who proceeded to ground into a 3-2-3 double play off newly-inserted reliever Tim Mayza.
Faced with the possibility of only scoring one run in the 10th, Verdugo came through with what would prove to be some much-needed insurance as he ripped a two-run double that split the gap in left field and scored both Devers and Martinez easily.
Verdugo’s second clutch hit of the night gave the Red Sox a rather sizable 6-3 lead going into the bottom half of the 10th. Still without unvaccinated closer Tanner Houck, manager Alex Cora rode with Strahm for a second straight inning.
As was the case with Tyler Danish on Tuesday, that decision nearly proved to be a disastrous one for the Red Sox. After quickly getting the first two outs of the 10th, Strahm yielded three straight hits to Matt Chapman, Espinal, and Biggio.
Espinal and Biggio — who doubled — both drove in a run with their hits to cut the Sox’ lead down to one at 6-5. Biggio represented the possible tying run at second base.
Strahm was now tasked with facing a dangerous hitter in Springer. The lefty was likely gassed given his workload, but he held on by getting Springer to pop out to Trevor Story to end the game.
So, on a season-high 41 pitches (30 strikes), Strahm prevented the Red Sox from getting swept while earning his third winning decision of the year.
With the win, Boston improves to 43-33 on the season and leaves Toronto a half-game ahead of the Blue Jays in the American League Wild Card standings.
Next up: Heading to Wrigley
The Red Sox will enjoy an off day on Thursday as they arrive in Chicago ahead of a three-game weekend series against the Cubs. This will mark the Sox’ first trip to Wrigley Field in 10 years.
In Friday afternoon’s series opener, veteran left-hander Rich Hill will get the start for Boston. Chicago has yet to officially name a starter.
Regardless of that, first pitch from the Friendly Confines on Friday is scheduled for 2:20 p.m. eastern time on NESN and MLB Network.
(Picture of Alex Verdugo: Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)