The Red Sox were one out away from losing sole possession of the lead in the American League East when J.D. Martinez stepped to the plate.
With the tying run on third base and two outs in the ninth inning Thursday night, Martinez got a hanging slider from Blue Jays closer Rafael Dolis and hammered it over the right-field wall for a two-run homer, his 12th of the season.
It was enough to lead the Sox to an 8-7 win over the Jays, secure a series win and preserve their lead in the division.
“It was a good feeling when he came up with a man at third,” manager Alex Cora said of Martinez. “Usually in those situations, they expand the plate and make him chase pitches. But they did not, and he put great swing on it.”
It had looked like the Red Sox were about to lose both of those after a sloppy game in which they made three errors, including a dropped catch at second base by Michael Chavis that almost cost them the game.
But Bobby Dalbec and Chavis started the ninth inning with back-to-back singles to get a rally going. They advanced 90 feet on a wild pitch. And after Kiké Hernandez struck out, Dalbec scored on a groundout by Alex Verdugo.
With Chavis at third base and two outs, Martinez came through in the clutch with a monster shot to right-center. Normally quite reserved, Martinez was seen screaming and pumping his fist as he rounded first base. It was also Martinez’s 250th career home run.
Matt Barnes warmed up quickly and handled the bottom of the ninth as the Red Sox moved to 27-18 on the season.
They’re now a game up on the Tampa Bay Rays, who are 26-19. The Yankees are 25-19 and a half game back. The Jays fell to 23-19, 2 1/2 games back.
It was nearly the first time since April 8 the Red Sox weren’t alone atop the division until Martinez changed things in the ninth.
“That’s all we do; we show up, we play, we move on,” Cora said. “Now it’s on to Philly and it should be a fun series up there.”
1. Nick Pivetta, who wasn’t particularly sharp in this one, put his team in a 2-0 hole after the first inning. Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Randal Grichuk each doubled to put the Jays ahead.
With two outs in the top of the second, the Red Sox offense responded with seven straight hits.
Jays lefty Steven Matz had two strikes each on Christian Vazquez, who singled, Hunter Renfroe, who singled, and Dalbec, who smoked a three-run homer off the right-field foul pole.
The Sox finished with five runs in the inning while sending 11 batters to the plate as they took a 5-2 lead behind Pivetta.
2. But it was another sloppy night on defense for the Red Sox, who made three errors and now have an astounding 32 errors in 45 games. Only the Angels (35) have committed more.
Rafael Devers made his team-leading seventh error in a key spot in the fifth, when Teoscar Hernandez hit a bouncing ball down the third-base line with runners on the corners. Devers tried to field it while on the run toward home, but the ball went in and out of his glove as the run scored and everybody was safe.
Two runs scored in the inning to tie the game, 5-5.
Hirokazu Sawamura replaced Pivetta in the sixth and the Jays quickly went ahead, 6-5, on two straight hits to start the inning.
But Sawamura should’ve been out of the inning with just one run allowed had Chavis not made a bad error with two outs.
Hernandez hit a ball to shortstop, where Xander Bogaerts collected it and threw it to Chavis at second. It was a routine play, but Chavis dropped the ball. Bogaerts hit him in the glove and Chavis simply couldn’t squeeze it. Grichuk singled on the very next play as the Jays took a 7-5 lead that held until the ninth.
3. It was an ugly game defensively, but Pivetta wasn’t great from the mound, either. He allowed five runs (four earned) on seven hits and two walks over five innings. It was clearly his worst start of the year, and first time since April 11 that he allowed more than three runs in a game.
“It’s not easy (to pitch in Dunedin, Fla.),” Pivetta said. “Wind’s blowing out pretty hard. It doesn’t feel like a regular field to me personally, but I’ve still got to make pitches at the end of the day.
“I felt really good. I had a really good curveball going. I commanded my slider. I thought my fastball command was actually pretty good tonight. As a whole I felt really good, to be honest with you.”