A day after clinching the American League East title, the scoreboard watching didn’t end.
The current race is for the best record in the AL, which would secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and allow the Red Sox to face the wild-card playoff winner. Toward that end, the Red Sox lost ground, succumbing to the Blue Jays, 4-2, Saturday night before a sellout crowd of 37,569 at Fenway.
With the Oakland A’s beating the Minnesota Twins, 9-1, Boston’s lead over the A’s for best record dipped to 1½ games, with the A’s owning a game in hand. After the Red Sox wrap up their series with Toronto on Sunday, they have two games in Colorado and three games in Baltimore to wrap up their season.
The A’s finish up with Minnesota on Sunday and then have a tough three-game series at the Angels, who have played much better recently, and then wrap up the season with three games in Seattle.
Whether it was the hangover from Friday night’s celebration or simply from Blue Jays starter Mark Buehrle having their number, the Red Sox didn’t have that extra zest Saturday night. They did manage to get within one run after Clay Buchholz allowed three runs in the fourth inning.
The Sox scored one in the sixth (on a Jonny Gomes single) and one in the seventh (on David Ross’s grounder), but the Jays bumped the lead to two runs when J.P. Arencibia singled off the wall in the ninth against Matt Thornton.
The day after clinching, manager John Farrell rested first baseman Mike Napoli and Dustin Pedroia (who pinch hit in the seventh inning and stayed in the game at second base) while also playing Will Middlebrooks at first base for the first time in his career.
Farrell also used lefty Drake Britton after Buchholz was done after six. Ryan Dempster made his 2013 relief debut in the eighth inning and Thornton pitched the ninth.
All the while Farrell vowed the Red Sox will not let up in their quest for the best record.
Just as it’s shocking to watch Koji Uehara give up a hit or a run, the same sentiment applies to Buchholz, who entered Saturday’s game 11-0 with a 1.51 ERA. Buchholz started off as if he would pitch another gem — retiring the first nine batters he faced — but in the fourth Buchholz came undone for the first time this season, allowing three runs in the inning. Buchholz hadn’t given up more than two runs in a start since May 6, a span of seven appearances.
Despite the rocky fourth Buchholz gave the Red Sox a quality start (six innings, three runs, two earned, two walks, and two strikeouts), but the quality of his season had been far superior to what he showed Saturday.
Buchholz, who entered with a 2.41 ERA in 17 previous appearances against the Jays, seemed to lack a crisp fastball from the fourth inning on. The good news is he extended himself to 106 pitches, which means the Red Sox have taken off the training wheels in his comeback from a three-month injury absence.
Buchholz allowed five hits in the fourth — the same number he had allowed in two starts since returning to the active roster.
Jose Reyes singled to lead off the inning but was caught stealing. After Munenori Kawasaki lined out to John McDonald at second base, Brett Lawrie reached on an infield single to third. Adam Lind doubled him in on a laser shot to center on which three-time Gold Glove winner Shane Victorino couldn’t back fast enough.
Moises Sierra singled and the second run scored on Rajai Davis’s bloop single to center. A Buchholz throwing error on a pickoff attempt to first cost him a third (unearned) run.
The Jays had two base runners on in the fifth when Buchholz allowed a single to left field to No. 9 hitter Ryan Goins and a walk to Reyes. He did his best work getting out of the jam, inducing a grounder back to the mound and covering first on grounder by Lawrie to get out of the inning.
In his final inning, the sixth, Buchholz walked Davis with two outs but Ross gunned down Davis trying to steal.
The Red Sox weren’t feeling their oats against the quick-working Buehrle, who surpassed the 200-inning plateau for the 13th consecutive season.
With their revamped lineup, leadoff hitter Stephen Drew singled to center field in the first inning and advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Victorino. But that’s as far as he got as Buehrle retired David Ortiz and Gomes. Buehrle then was perfect in the second and third. Victorino singled to lead off the fourth, but the Sox made three straight outs behind him.
There was a two-out single by Ross in the fifth, but that was it. Victorino caused a bit of a controversy in the sixth when it looked like he leaned into a pitch and got hit in the shoulder. Buehrle, catcher Arencibia, and manager John Gibbons protested the play to no avail. Victorino leads the league in HBP with 18.
With two men on, a single to left by Gomes put Boston on the board.