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Red Sox 1-7, Blue Jays 8-5

Red Sox stay the course

They split with Jays to stay two behind Rays

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / September 14, 2008
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Time was winding down, the Blue Jays were ahead, and the scoreboard in left revealed the Rays were winning as well. The Red Sox, down by a run in a game gaining importance by the minute, hadn't done more than chip away against the Blue Jays all evening. They lost the first game, 8-1, falling three games behind the victorious Rays.

And they were in danger of losing again.

Then Jason Bay doubled to lead off the eighth inning, followed by a line single to center by Jed Lowrie, tying the score. Meanwhile, the Yankees tied the Rays in the seventh inning of the second game of a doubleheader in New York.

"We needed to win that game," Dustin Pedroia said of the Sox' 7-5 victory in the nightcap. Simple, and true.

Welcome to September baseball. What was true a moment ago is not necessarily true now. The Sox, who lost a game to the Rays in the standings in the afternoon, suddenly had life again. Two doubleheaders, two tied scores, two teams fighting for a chance to win the American League East.

The Sox had squandered a prime opportunity, scoring just one run on a bases-loaded, no-outs situation in the sixth, but they won Game 2 on an unpredictable occurrence. Jacoby Ellsbury bounced a ball down the first-base line, and reliever Scott Downs fell on the way to pick it up. The ball stayed fair as Lowrie scored easily from third to give the Sox a 6-5 lead in the eighth.

"It would have been a real tough play for him," Ellsbury said. "Lefthanded pitcher, coming off the mound like that right down the line. If he would have made it, it would have been a web gem. I saw him slip. At that point I was just hoping it was going to stay fair."

It did. So a day that nearly ended in disaster - the Sox could have fallen five games back in the loss column with 14 to play - ended with the Sox and Rays exactly where they started. Two games (three in the loss column) still separate the teams in a division that remains up for grabs.

"I think when you look back there was a lot of critical points," manager Terry Francona said of the second game, ticking off Ellsbury's hit, Bay's hit, and a take-out slide by David Ortiz in the seventh that kept the Sox from a double play and allowed Ellsbury to score, a run that cut the Blue Jays' lead to 5-4. "We kept getting turned away. We talk all the time about handling frustration and how we handle it. We kept plugging, and kept plugging, and we got close, couldn't tie it. We stayed at it.

"A lot of things happened to give us a chance to win that game."

Dustin Pedroia recorded his 200th hit of the season and 50th double - and scored in the first when he followed Ellsbury home on a wild pitch/error by the catcher. Plus, starter Bartolo Colon made a nifty pirouette grab on Alex Rios's one-hopper to the mound that left the hefty righthander laughing.

But it didn't always look rosy. With Paul Byrd hit hard (five runs on 10 hits in five innings), the Sox looked lost for much of the day. But after falling big to the Blue Jays in Game 1, the Sox came back to win the nightcap in front of an audience that was likely watching that scoreboard as hawkishly as the game.

Byrd, as he usually is, was around the strike zone. Perhaps too much. When he left, he had thrown just 59 pitches, although 47 were strikes.

"What he does is deception, and throwing strikes," Francona said after Game 1.

"He almost threw too many strikes You hate to say something like that. They were so aggressive, and sometimes maybe you have to get guys to throw a couple pitches off the plate."

It got so bad, Byrd allowed six straight hits over two innings, the fourth and fifth. In the fourth, Vernon Wells doubled, then Lyle Overbay singled, but Wells was cut down at third. Adam Lind followed with a double, scoring Overbay, but Lind ran into an out between second and third base.

The Blue Jays, who have faced Byrd in four of his last seven starts and have another date against him next weekend, opened the fifth with three straight hits. Single, single, home run into the visitors' bullpen by Travis Snider. Six straight, and it was 5-0 Jays with a dominating A.J. Burnett (18-10) in control.

"I felt like they were really aggressive," said Byrd, who fell to 11-12. "I felt like they were swinging early. I felt like they were looking on the inside part of the plate, which was fine with me if I hit my spots. I really just did not command my fastball well today, which is what I do for a living."

It looked bad at that point for the Sox, a quiet clubhouse marking the break between games.

But at night the Sox kept chipping away, then Ellsbury hit a little roller up the first-base line . . .

"Obviously we know what's going on," said Ellsbury, who went 2 for 4 with three runs in the nightcap. "I don't think there was any more urgency [in the second game]. Any game we come out, we compete, we want to win, no matter what's going on."

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com.

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