Light at end of tunnel for Sox
TORONTO — The retractable roof atop Rogers Centre was not operating properly yesterday as the panel behind home plate refused to budge. That left the Blue Jays with two choices before they played the Red Sox: close the roof entirely on a beautiful summer day or play the game with a shadow cutting the infield in half.
They chose the latter, which created pleasant conditions for many spectators but a devilish situation for the hitters. For much of the game, the pitcher stood in sunshine and threw the ball into the darkness.
“It was a great day to pitch,’’ Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “With the shadow where it was, it was so hard to see. You’d see half the ball.’’
Both pitchers used the strobe-light effect to their advantage. Daisuke Matsuzaka, the often-erratic righthander of the Red Sox, started the game with six shutout innings. Toronto starter Jesse Litsch was even better, taking a no-hit bid into the sixth.
But as the sun shifted, so did the fortunes of the Red Sox.
Marco Scutaro doubled with two outs in the sixth. Darnell McDonald followed with a home run to left and David Ortiz with another to right. The sudden burst of offense was enough to give the Sox a 3-2 victory.
After being swept by the Rays on the first leg of their road trip, the Sox go into the All-Star break having won two of three and feeling better about themselves. They are three games behind the Rays for the American League wild card and five behind the Yankees in the division race with 74 games to play.
“We needed that,’’ Ortiz said. “Now everybody is happy.’’
McDonald would not have started but Mike Cameron had a sore right wrist after being hit by a pitch Saturday. As he has done the entire season, McDonald embraced the opportunity.
“That’s probably the worst game I’ve ever played in as far as dealing with the shadows,’’ McDonald said. “It’s tough for both teams. But we got the hits when we needed them.’’
McDonald had grounded to the pitcher and popped up in his first two at-bats. When he got up again, he told himself to take a more powerful swing.
“I felt like the first two times I was too worried about trying to see the ball,’’ McDonald said. “When I got up again, I figured I might as well let it fly. I’ve never seen anything like that. Everybody had trouble seeing the ball.’’
With Scutaro on second, McDonald swung at a 3-1 offspeed pitch and lifted it over the wall. Francona called it a “gorgeous swing.’’ But the result shocked McDonald.
“Never expected it,’’ he said. “Maybe I had a little extra time because it was a breaking pitch.’’
McDonald has hit .271 with six home runs and 24 RBIs in the 68 games he has played since being called up to help replace Jacoby Ellsbury.
Ortiz’s home run came on a cut fastball in on his hands. But he was able to muscle it out to right for his 18th homer of the season.
“You try and see it as much as you can. You can’t hit what you can’t see,’’ Ortiz said. “I don’t know. I just closed my eyes and swung.’’
Matsuzaka took a 3-0 lead into the seventh. Francona had the well-rested Daniel Bard warming up for the first sign of trouble. But Matsuzaka didn’t give him much time. After Adam Lind singled, Aaron Hill belted the next pitch over the fence in left.
Francona was out of the dugout quickly to replace Matsuzaka, who allowed six hits without a walk and struck out five.
Bard got six outs and Jonathan Papelbon the last three for his 20th save.
“I told them I was ready to pitch three or four innings,’’ said Bard, who had pitched once in the previous 11 days. “I’m serious, too. It felt like spring training.’’
Papelbon dispatched the Jays with eight pitches. He was pitching for only the third time in 12 days.
Bard has not allowed a run in his last 10 outings, dropping his earned run average to 1.90, while Papelbon has been perfect in his last five appearances.
The Red Sox dressed quickly after the game, eager to get started with their vacation. The team will reconvene at Fenway Park on Thursday to face the Rangers.
“With so many guys out with injuries, we’ll take any win we can get,’’ Bard said. “To win a series before the break, that’s pretty sweet. I think this was a big weekend for us. This team keeps hanging around, and when we do, good things happen.’’