TORONTO — They may be the “weakest September roster in baseball history,” as Bobby Valentine pointed out Friday, but the Red Sox don’t want to finish last.
“Of course not,” Dustin Pedroia said following Saturday’s 3-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Pedro Ciriaco’s clutch, two-out double to score Jarrod Saltalamacchia with the winning run in the ninth. “There’s a lot of pride here. The guys want to finish as strong as possible.
The Sox have taken two straight in this battle to avoid being the AL Least. At the end of the day, the Sox were 66-80 and the Jays were 65-79.
“It’s a good feeling to be able to go up there and get a hit like that,” said Ciriaco, whose 18 RBIs have been pretty clutch; six of them have come after the sixth inning and three in the ninth. “Clay [Buchholz] pitched an unbelievable game and it was great to get a win today.”
Ciriaco, who has become the everyday third baseman in Will Middlebrooks’s absence, is Valentine’s creation. Valentine loved him in spring training and wanted to keep him as a utility man.
After an All-Star season at Pawtucket, Ciriaco has come back up and reinforced Valentine’s faith in him. He has gone from being a potential major league super-utility player to likely being an everyday player.
Where, is the question.
“It’s a couple of hundred at-bats now and he’s hitting .300 and his at-bats are as good as anyone on the team,” said Valentine. “Everyone knows he can hit a fastball, but he hits a 2-and-1 breaking ball for a game-winner.
“You know what he does on the bases [13 steals without being caught]. He’s a good player.”
Saltalamacchia started the ninth with a double.
“Since I hurt my back, I’ve changed my approach at the plate,” Saltalamacchia said. “I was up there trying to hit everything out of the park. Now I’m just trying to make contact and hit the ball hard somewhere. The approach has helped and I’m going to stick with it.”
Ciriaco feels that playing every day in the majors has given him the confidence he needs.
“On those days you go 0 for 4, you have the opportunity the next day,” he said. “This game is about adjustments. The more chances to play, the more chances to make adjustments.
“When you have more confidence, and the more pitches you see, the better. I always feel positive, and am trying to play hard every time I play.”
Ciriaco had never been a third baseman per se, but, he said, “I feel better at third base. I’ve been playing more. Just getting into it a little bit more. Everybody knows I’m there right now because Middlebrooks is hurt, but I just try to do my best every time.”
Ciriaco committed an error on Rajai Davis’s grounder in the fifth inning, when the Jays scored an unearned run to tie the game. Adam Lind’s sacrifice fly to shallow center — on which Jacoby Ellsbury made a weak, inaccurate throw — made it 2-2.
Otherwise, Buchholz (seven innings, one earned run) was superb after spotting the Jays a first-inning run. Toronto went up, 1-0, after two outs as Edwin Encarnacion walked, Lind doubled, and Yunel Escobar singled to score Encarnacion while Lind was thrown out at the plate by Cody Ross.
In the bottom of the second, Ross homered, his 21st, on a 2-and-1 fastball from Toronto starter Carlos Villanueva to tie it up.
In the fourth, the Sox took the lead with a two-out rally. Ross drew a key walk, which was followed by singles by James Loney and Saltalamacchia, producing the go-ahead run.
Craig Breslow pitched a solid eighth, and after the Sox took the lead, Andrew Bailey recorded his fourth save. Bailey seems to be in midseason form after rehabbing from thumb surgery.
“During the rehab assignment, it’s like spring training,” said Bailey. “It’s nice to think back that Bobby used me in the beginning in a third of an inning or two-thirds. Looking back, that was good, and I feel great now. Non-issues all around the board.”
While his season has been frustrating, Bailey feels that what has been salvaged is a building block for next season.
“It’s nice to have the adrenaline rush again,” he said. “We may be out of it, and it’s been a frustrating season, but we’re going into next year with a clean state and we’ll see what ownership wants to do.
“It was exciting getting traded here, with all the expectations we had. That injury was terrible, but you have to keep looking forward to the day you’re active and help winning games will come.”
“Wish I had him all year,” Valentine said. “That’s all I know. His curveball is coming along and he’s pitching with confidence. He’s not afraid to challenge the hitter. It’s good to see him back.”