Burnett pitches Blue Jays past Red Sox 4-3
TORONTO (AP)—Once the best closer in baseball, Red Sox reliever Eric Gagne has suddenly become shaky.
So has Boston’s lead in the AL East.
“I don’t know how to put it into words,” Gagne said. “It’s just very frustrating.”
Boston has lost three straight and had its lead in the AL East cut to 2 1/2 games over New York, after the Yankees’ 12-0 victory over Baltimore. It’s the smallest Red Sox lead since before play on April 26.
“I don’t think anybody is thinking about that,” second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. “We need to play better than we have been.”
Gagne, who holds the major league record with 84 consecutive saves, has blown four saves since joining Boston from Texas in a July 31 trade. All four games have ended as Red Sox losses.
“We’ve had some weird games this past week,” catcher Jason Varitek said. “Those things happen throughout a season. You don’t want them to happen now but we need to focus on what we need to do to make things right.”
Red Sox manager Terry Francona said Gagne appeared to be overthrowing as the inning unraveled.
“It looked like he wanted to throw it through the backstop instead of remembering what makes him Gagne,” Francona said. “He got a little revved up. Johnny (pitching coach John Farrell) tried to go out and slow him down and it didn’t end up very well.”
Boston led 2-1 in the eighth when Frank Thomas drew a two-out walk off Gagne (3-2). Thomas was replaced by pinch-runner Curtis Thigpen, and Aaron Hill singled and Matt Stairs walked before Gregg Zaun drew a five-pitch walk to tie the game.
“I felt good physically,” said Gagne, who was out with a sore shoulder from Aug. 27 to Sept. 10. “I walked Thomas and after that I didn’t throw strikes.”
Gagne got in a brief argument with plate umpire Ed Rapuano, then gave up Adams’ double that barely cleared the outstretched arm of J.D. Drew in right field. Hill and Stairs scored but Zaun was thrown out at the plate, ending the inning.
“I was just being emotional out on the mound, frustrated at myself,” Gagne said.
Varitek wasn’t so diplomatic.
“He made some pitches that could go either way and he didn’t get any of those calls,” Varitek said.
Even with closer Jonathan Papelbon warming in the bullpen, Francona chose to stick with Gagne.
“He had two quick outs,” Francona said. “That’s his inning to get out of.”
A.J. Burnett came within one out of a complete game to win for the fourth time in eight starts since returning from the disabled list Aug. 12, after missing 37 games with a sore shoulder. He gave up three runs and nine hits, striking out 11 and walking three—one intentional.
The Blue Jays opened the scoring in the first on Alex Rios’ RBI double.
Thomas advanced Rios to third with a base hit, but he was thrown out at the plate on Hill’s fielder’s choice grounder. Stairs loaded the bases with a walk, but Jon Lester struck out Zaun to escape the jam.
Lester clamped down after his shaky first, allowing just a walk to Rios in the third, a single to Zaun in the fourth and a walk to Hector Luna in the seventh. He yielded one run and three hits in 6 2-3 innings, walked four and struck out five.
“He’s a maturing young pitcher, that’s for sure,” Francona said.
Manny Delcarmen replaced Lester and got Wells to fly out to end the seventh.
Boston tied it at 1 in the fourth on a two-out double by Varitek, then went ahead in the fifth on another two-out double, this one from David Ortiz. The hit snapped an 0-for-9 slump for Ortiz, who is 1-for-8 with six strikeouts in his past two games.
Boston is still without outfielder Manny Ramirez, who has missed the past 20 games with a strained left oblique muscle.
“It’s not going away,” Francona said. “He’s been working hard but it’s not there. The running yesterday didn’t go as well as he had hoped.”
Francona plans to give starters Daisuke Matsuzaka and Curt Schilling extra days off before their next starts as he tries to set his rotation for the playoffs. Matsuzaka, working on three extra days’ rest, will go Saturday at Tampa Bay. Schilling will go on four extra days’ rest against Oakland next Tuesday. ^Notes: Ortiz has 27 RBIs in his past 24 games. … Toronto Raptors guard T.J. Ford and forward Jason Kapono attended the game. … Stairs played in his 1,532nd career game, passing Terry Puhl for second-most by a Canadian-born player. Larry Walker (1988) tops the list.