The Red Sox rookies departed Fenway Park yesterday dressed in "High School Musical" costumes (lots of dresses, skirts, and lipstick) as part of the ageless rookie hazing ritual after the Sox had choreographed a 4-3 win over the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Red Sox are hoping to be more pit bull than lipstick tonight as they attempt to pull even with Tampa Bay, which holds a one-game lead in the American League East as the teams open a three-game set in St. Petersburg, Fla. Last week, the Sox dropped two out of three to the Rays at Fenway and now the Sox must prove they can win at The Trop, where they are 0-6 this season.
Boston is in this position because it held off the red hot Blue Jays, winning three out of four games. Yesterday, the Sox did it the hard way - beating Roy Halladay - arguably one of the best pitchers in baseball, even on three days' rest.
Although the Sox have a six-game lead in the wild-card race, Mike Lowell says the team has its eyes on a bigger prize - the East.
"Absolutely we want to win the division," said Lowell. "We're right there in the standings. We were able to win this series with Toronto and take care of business here and now we're in position to be able to fight for the division. If you're in this position, why not?"
The Red Sox received a sterling performance from Jon Lester, who outdueled Halladay with a strong eight-inning performance, in which he allowed a run on four hits with six strikeouts. Lester improved to 15-5 while his ERA dropped to 3.15 with a superb cutter and movement on his two-seam fastball that ate up Blue Jays' hitters like something resembling Andy Pettitte in his prime.
"I'm so proud of him," said Sox shortstop Alex Cora. "The way he's been able to come back from everything he's had and now to be one of the best pitchers in baseball is just amazing. To have that kind of a player from the left side in this rotation is major for us. We feel like we're going to win when he takes the ball."
Jonathan Papelbon's 38th save was shaky, but the job got done as the Jays scored two runs in the ninth and a bad call at second base (Lyle Overbay was thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double) cost the Jays a chance to pull even. The lefthanded hitting Overbay stroked a ball off the Wall. Jason Bay collected the carom flawlessly and gunned a strong throw to second base that beat Overbay, but Dustin Pedroia's tag was late. Umpire Doug Eddings missed the call, however. It would have given the Jays second and third and nobody out after one run already had scored.
"The ball beat him there, but I think [Eddings] got blocked out," said Toronto manager Cito Gaston. "You might have thought he was out, but we've all seen that he wasn't out. That was a big play for them and they got the call. Otherwise we'd still be playing out there."
Papelbon surrendered a double to Vernon Wells, who scored on pinch hitter Adam Lind's single to left. Overbay's hit moved Lind to third, but while Eddings might have blown the call, Overbay's judgment in testing Bay wasn't sound, either.
"When I came here to Boston, I said I was going to do a lot of different things well and one of the things is playing defense and my arm," said Bay. "I haven't had any problems with the Wall. It is what it is. Once you understand how to read the caroms, you're OK. So far it's been great. I just fielded it and came up throwing and Dustin made a nice tag."
It wasn't Overbay's only blunder. In the seventh, he booted Jason Varitek's grounder, which wound up costing Halladay a run as Coco Crisp stroked his second two-out RBI single of the game, scoring Lowell, who had led off the inning with a single to left. Crisp, hitting .444 over his last 22 games, drove in Bay (double) in the second inning with a single to right field.
"I think the bigger story was Lester," said Crisp, when asked about his two key hits. "Lester dominated. And secondly, I would say Bay made a great throw. And Lowell's play."
Lowell made a nice play on a ball that was about to crawl up his arm, but he managed to field it and throw out Scott Rolen in the ninth, or that might have been more trouble for Papelbon.
The Sox had set the tone with a first-inning run answering Jose Bautista's solo homer off Lester. They played some nifty small-ball ignited by Jacoby Ellsbury's leadoff single. After Ellsbury stole second, Pedroia decided the best way to advance Ellsbury to third was to bunt him over. Pedroia's rationale was simple - "When you have a Roy Halladay throwing 95-mile-per-hour sinkers, it's not always easy to get the runner over. I just thought bunting him over was the best option." David Ortiz's ground out to second got the run in.
"When you're up against a guy like Doc [Halladay], they're usually going to [play some small ball]," said Gaston. "Normally, I'm pretty sure they wouldn't do that in that situation."
There were other gifts besides Overbay's mistakes. Alex Rios misplayed Ortiz's sinking liner to right, letting the ball get by him and allowing the lumbering DH to reach third in the eighth. That proved to be an important play as Kevin Youkilis delivered Ortiz via a sacrifice fly. The Jays also had two on and one out in the seventh and Gaston elected not to pinch hit for weak-hitting John McDonald (.212). McDonald grounded into a double play to end the scoring threat.
In a series where some thought the Jays might get back into the wild-card hunt, they pretty much eliminated themselves and kept Boston alive for the division title.
"Every time we play [Tampa Bay] it's a well-fought, well-played game," Crisp said. "They play fundamentally sound baseball. So now, we have to go down there and do the same thing. It's going to be an exciting battle. I think we're all looking forward to it."