The Boston Red Sox’s AL East lead once appeared insurmountable. With two weeks left in the regular season, it doesn’t seem that way anymore.
The Red Sox look to strengthen their grip on first place when they continue a three-game series on Tuesday night against the Toronto Blue Jays.
After losing two of three at home to the New York Yankees over the weekend, the Red Sox were unable to contain Frank Thomas in Monday’s series opener. Thomas hit three home runs for the second time in his career - both against Boston - in Toronto’s 6-1 victory.
His other three-homer game came on Sept. 15, 1996 at Fenway Park, where all three home runs came against Wakefield.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Wakefield said. “There’s a reason he’s got 512 homers. If you make mistakes to him, they leave the yard pretty quick.”
Thomas now is tied with Ernie Banks and Eddie Matthews for 18th on the career list. His 40 home runs against Boston also are the most among active players.
The Red Sox (90-61) had their lead in the East cut to 3 1/2 games over the Yankees, who beat Baltimore 8-5. That is Boston’s smallest division margin since it led Toronto by three games on April 26.
Injuries have also become a concern for the Red Sox.
Manny Ramirez missed his 19th straight game with a strained left oblique, and isn’t likely to play in this series. Manager Terry Francona said Ramirez must prove he is mentally ready to play before returning.
“He’s got to know inside that he can play the game and not hurt himself,” said Francona, whose team is 10-9 without the 11-time All-Star.
The Red Sox also were without first baseman Kevin Youkilis, who was held out of the starting lineup for the second straight game due to a swollen right wrist suffered when he was hit by a pitch from the Yankees’ Chien-Ming Wang on Saturday. Francona also said designated hitter David Ortiz is battling a sore knee and center fielder Coco Crisp has a stiff back.
“We’re going to have to fight through here for a few days,” Francona said.
Boston hopes Jon Lester (4-0, 4.86 ERA) can help get it back in the win column. The left-hander, though, lasted only 3 2-3 innings Wednesday against Tampa Bay, but didn’t receive a decision after allowing four runs and eight hits. The Red Sox rallied to win that game 5-4 and Lester extended his unbeaten streak to 12 games despite the poor outing, going 6-0 in that span.
Lester, who’s never faced Toronto, is 4-0 with a 5.40 ERA in seven road starts dating to last season.
Monday’s victory only was the third in 10 games for the Blue Jays (75-75), who are hoping to finish with a winning record in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1999-2000.
Toronto’s A.J. Burnett (8-7, 3.42) takes the mound as one of the league’s hottest pitchers. The right-hander has gone 3-1 with a 1.78 ERA in his last seven starts. During that span, he has allowed 25 hits in 50 2-3 innings, walked 18 and struck out 46.
Burnett was stellar again in Toronto’s 2-1 victory over the Yankees on Thursday, yielding one run and four hits with eight strikeouts and two walks in eight innings.
He is 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in three career starts - all last season - against the Red Sox.