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BOSTON—At the height of the rivalry between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, facing either American League powerhouse after they’d just played a hard-fought series against each other could be a blessing in disguise.
“There was a few times you’d play ’em right after they played each other,” manager John Gibbons reminisced Monday before his Blue Jays took on the AL East-leading Red Sox. “It was always a good time to play them because they were beat to death. Bullpens were beat to crap.”
Fenway Park hosted another duel between the old foes over the weekend, including a 16-inning marathon on Saturday before a Sunday doubleheader. Boston and New York split the series, but the real winners may have been the Blue Jays, who beat an overworked Red Sox team 4-3 in the opener of a four-game set.
Blue Jays left fielder Steve Pearce was the man of the hour, launching a solo homer over the Green Monster in the second inning for a 3-0 lead before cashing in Ezequiel Carrera with a decisive RBI single in the eighth, stopping the home team’s comeback in its tracks.
“He’s been playing great. We got him for a reason,” Gibbons said of Pearce, batting .361 since returning from injury in mid-June.
Having started the day nine games back, the Jays will take all the help they can get.
Toronto put a pair of runs on the board before Boston’s first at-bat, with a double off the right-field wall by Kendrys Morales scoring Russell Martin and Justin Smoak.
Pearce’s leadoff homer in the second gave starter Marcus Stroman some breathing room, and he racked up six shutout innings before the Red Sox got to him for three runs in the seventh.
“To be able to come in here and get the first one, hopefully it gives us a little bit of momentum going into these next few games,” Stroman said.
A bases-loaded jam in the seventh was the first time all night that Stroman looked anything but in control: a double from Andrew Benintendi, an error by Stroman — failing to get his foot on the bag while covering first on a Jackie Bradley Jr. grounder — and a walk to Christian Vazquez set the stage. Brock Holt’s sacrifice fly scored Benintendi before a Mookie Betts single brought home Bradley Jr.
Dustin Pedroia’s double one batter later knocked in Vazquez, but when Betts ignored a stop sign at third base, a strong relay throw from shortstop Troy Tulowitzki to catcher Russell Martin nailed the runner at home.
It looked like the Jays were on the verge of another heartbreaking defeat after squandering a three-run cushion until Pearce brought home Carrera in the eighth.
“We responded right away,” Pearce said post-game. “We didn’t let that inning knock us down. . . . We responded like we should.”
Ryan Tepera pitched a perfect eighth before Roberto Osuna set down the Red Sox in order on just eight pitches in the ninth for his 23rd save.
“A one-run game here is nothing. A three-run game is nothing here because you’re staring at that monster out there,” Gibbons said. “That’s huge. And then any time we get to Osuna, whose been on a nice little roll, we feel pretty good.”
The Blue Jays were handed another victory of sorts when the Red Sox pushed Chris Sale’s scheduled Thursday start back to Friday. By that time, the Jays will be safely in Cleveland to start a weekend series against Edwin Encarnacion and the Indians.
Blue Jay J.A. Happ will face another lefty, call-up Brian Johnson, instead of righty Doug Fister on Tuesday. Fister will close out the series on Thursday afternoon instead.
Francisco Liriano, day-to-day with neck tightness, threw on flat ground Monday and will throw in the bullpen Wednesday before the Jays decide if he can start Thursday.