Red Sox slug way to sweep of Jays
Drew's two dingers help club pace AL Wild Card race
TORONTO -- Not often do teams get home runs from the eighth hitter in their lineup. More rarely do they get two.
But that's exactly what the Red Sox got from right fielder J.D. Drew on Thursday, in an 8-1 win over the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. With that, Boston swept Toronto for the second time this season and departed with its one-game lead over Texas in the American League Wild Card race intact.
In a game oddly similar to Wednesday's 6-1 win, the Sox paired a trio of home runs with a standout performance from their starter -- in this case, left-hander Jon Lester -- to notch a convincing victory over Toronto.
Drew made Blue Jays starter Brett Cecil pay for leaving a pair of fastballs -- a two-seamer and a four-seamer -- up in the zone, hitting a leadoff home run in the third inning and going deep again in the fourth, also scoring Mike Lowell from first.
The left-handed-hitting Drew, who batted second while second baseman Dustin Pedroia missed two games to attend the birth of his son, was dropped to the eighth spot in the order, as manager Terry Francona sought to draw up a balanced lineup.
Drew, who has dealt with back issues in the past and missed time during the team's recent trip to Texas due to a groin injury, went 4-for-4 on the night.
"We recognize that we are a different team when he's able to go out there and be healthy and play like he can," Francona said. "So sometimes, you suck it up [and rest him] for a day or two to try to get a guy going more at full speed, because he can play pretty good baseball."
After Drew's two shots, catcher Victor Martinez hit a towering blast to right field in the seventh off reliever Shawn Camp. Martinez blasted a 2-2 pitch from Camp into the second deck in right field, capping off a three-homer night -- the second successive for Boston.
That gave the Red Sox (69-51) eight home runs in three games in Toronto, which bodes well for a club in the thick of a playoff race whose offense has fallen flat in recent losses to the Yankees and Rangers.
"It seems like when one guy gets hot, a lot of guys get hot," Drew said. "The key is to try and keep going as a team, get quality at-bats, getting guys in in key situations."
The Sox's bats forced the Jays' starting pitcher into another early exit -- Cecil lasted only 4 1/3 innings, and Roy Halladay's five-inning start on Wednesday was the longest by a Toronto pitcher this series -- while Lester followed a one-run performance by Clay Buchholz the night before with a stellar outing of his own.
Lester allowed the first three Jays batters of the game to reach base, and leadoff hitter Marco Scutaro scored on a double by second baseman Aaron Hill. After walking center fielder Vernon Wells, Lester induced a ground ball off the bat of catcher Rod Barajas and struck out Kevin Millar, shutting Toronto (55-64) out for the rest of his eight innings.
"You can't panic -- it's the first inning," Lester said of his early struggles. "There's a lot of baseball left. [I was] just trying to minimize the damage -- just trying to get two outs with one pitch -- and was able to do that. We traded that for a run, and once you get those two outs, it's kind of like a breath of fresh air."
After the double by Hill, Lester faced 17 batters before allowing another hit. Although both Francona and Lester felt the lefty had trouble getting first-pitch strikes, Lester pitched eight innings and gave up only three hits and two walks, facing only three batters over the minimum.
"They had some good at-bats against me where they were taking a lot of pitches and making me work, but it seemed like when I needed that ground ball or when I needed that missed contact, I was able to do that," Lester said.
Lester has now limited opponents to one earned run in nine of his past 15 starts, and has allowed more than three earned runs only once over that span. He had not won in five starts, however, as he recorded no-decisions in his previous four outings despite posting an ERA of 3.28.
"He's a good pitcher -- he's got good stuff," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said of Lester, who improved to 10-7. "I'm just a little surprised at his record. Overall, he's one of the better left-handers in this league."
The Red Sox also took advantage of some defensive miscues from the Jays, who recorded three errors, the most surprising of which came when Cecil (5-2) threw a live ball into the dugout in the fourth inning. That allowed Boston left fielder Jason Bay to advance from first to third and score on a single by Lowell for the first of two unearned runs on the night.
"I've never seen anything like what happened tonight," Lester said of Cecil's gaffe. "[It] helped us out, but you hate to see stuff like that happen, because the kid's pitching a decent game and something like that can really break your confidence."
Even without the help from the Jays' defense, the Red Sox's bats provided more than enough offense in support of Lester, and they will head back home for a series against the rival Yankees on a positive note.
"That's big for us -- I think more mentally than anything -- to prove to ourselves that we can swing the bats," Lester said. "I don't think our slump, or whatever you want to call it, was going to last forever.
"We've got too many guys on this team that can swing the bat too good to hold us down too long."
Erika Gilbert is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.