TORONTO, AUG. 24 -- Tonight was Roger Clemens's turn in the Boston Red Sox' pitching rotation. But Manager Joe Morgan elected to give Clemens an extra day's rest and instead started rookie right-hander Dana Kiecker, 29, in a critical contest against the Toronto Blue Jays.
The gamblers' odds turned topsy-turvy, as a lot of people thought Morgan was conceding the game. Instead, Kiecker pitched eight scoreless innings and the Red Sox earned a 2-0 victory, rebuilding their American League East lead to two games over the Blue Jays.
The Red Sox had one chance and made the most of it. They did not have a man in scoring position until the ninth inning, when one-out singles by Mike Marshall and Tom Brunansky produced the only runs.
Kiecker, unable to retire a batter in his previous start against the Orioles Tuesday, yielded five hits and walked four as he maneuvered his way through eight innings of minefields for his fifth victory. Jeff Gray pitched a scoreless ninth for his fifth save.
"Even with Clemens pitching tomorrow, we didn't want to lose two in a row to these guys," said Red Sox Manager Joe Morgan. "It was a big effort for us and a bigger effort by Kiecker."
Reliever Duane Ward was the victim of the Red Sox' ninth-inning fireworks, after lefty Jimmy Key had thrown seven marvelous innings, yielding five hits and walking none.
Boston got its leadoff man on base for the first time when Wade Boggs singled in the ninth, extending his batting streak through nine games. When Boggs reached third on Mike Greenwell's single, he became the first Red Sox past first base.
The count was 0-2 when Marshall pulled Ward's ill-advised offering into left field for the game's first run. Brunansky followed with a broken-bat blooper to left center, scoring Greenwell, and the crowd of 49,914 was further incensed when left fielder George Bell misplayed the ball for a meaningless error.
"I was just trying to make contact," Marshall said. "He made a good pitch, a little slider, and I just went out and got it. He made three quality pitches -- it just happens once in a while."
"I'm just glad Joe gave me the opportunity to redeem myself," said Kiecker. "When you're coming off an outing like I was, one of the worst of my career, you want to redeem yourself. Tonight was probably a game the Blue Jays were looking to win and we snuck it away from them."
Certainly, the Blue Jays had the better chances, putting runners in scoring position in the first, third, fourth, fifth and seventh. They were betrayed by some dreadful swings and by an inability to bunt.
They entered the game with 14 successful sacrifices, by far the fewest in the major leagues, and they left with the same number.
Greg Myers opened the seventh with a double to right and Manny Lee, after watching a pitchout and bunting foul, sent one back to Kiecker, who got pinch runner Kenny Williams at third. The Blue Jays wound up wasting a two-out single by Mookie Wilson, whose two hits extended his streak to nine games.
"That was a big play," Morgan said. "Kiecker jumped right on it."
"He was squaring around when we pitched out, so they gave it away," Kiecker said. "I was hoping they were bunting, because I consider myself one of the best fielding pitchers in baseball. I knew I could execute it."
A major-league contender ought to be able to execute a bunt in a scoreless game when two men are on, none out and the No. 2 batter at the plate. In that situation, however, the Blue Jays swung away in the fifth and ruined a threat.
Junior Felix beat out a grounder to first baseman Carlos Quintana when Kiecker was slow to cover first and never did touch the bag. Wilson followed with a single to right. Up came Tony Fernandez, whose two sacrifices share second place on a team led by Wilson's four.
Fernandez grounded the first pitch into a 4-6-3 double play. Kelly Gruber followed with a fly ball and the fans, not for the first or last time, booed the home club.
"We got a break when the ball Fernandez hit went right at" second baseman Jody Reed, said Morgan, withholding any criticism of rival Cito Gaston's strategy.
The Blue Jays' big guns in the 3-4-5 positions -- Gruber, Bell and Fred McGriff -- went zero for 11 and swung at some awful pitches, although Gruber hit a drive that Kiecker caught in self defense, leaving Kiecker a bit shaky in the eighth.
"It was just a reaction play," he said. "My wife was probably more scared watching it. We just got married and we don't have any children."
Wilson took four straight balls as the leadoff man in the first inning. With one out and Gruber at bat, Wilson stole second. He reached third when Gruber swung at a 3-1 wild pitch, but he went no farther as both Gruber and Bell fanned, inspiring the first boos of the night.
Wilson broke his wrists on an off-target 3-2 pitch with Felix at second and none out in the third. Lee fanned on a pitch that catcher Tony Pena blocked with two on and two out in the fourth, Pena throwing to first for the putout.
Key, who left after 90 pitches, has thrown only one complete game in three years.
BOSTON ab r h bi TORONTO ab r h bi JoReed 2b 4 0 0 0 MWilson cf 3 0 2 0 Quintana 1b 4 0 1 0 TFernandz ss 4 0 0 0 Boggs 3b 4 1 1 0 Gruber 3b 4 0 0 0 Burks cf 4 0 0 0 Bell lf 4 0 0 0 Greenwell lf 4 1 2 0 McGriff 1b 3 0 0 0 Marshall dh 4 0 2 1 Olerud dh 4 0 1 0 Brunansky rf 4 0 1 1 Myers c 2 0 1 0 Pena c 4 0 1 0 Williams pr 0 0 0 0 Rivera ss 4 0 1 0 Borders c 1 0 0 0 Lee 2b 3 0 0 0 Mulliniks ph 1 0 0 0 Felix rf 2 0 1 0 Totals 36 2 9 2 Totals 31 0 5 0 Boston 000 000 002 2 Toronto 000 000 000 0
E: Bell. DP: Boston 1. LOB: Boston 7, Toronto 8. 2B: Myers. SB: MWilson (22), Felix (12). RED SOX IP H R ER
Umpires: Home, Welke; First, Coble; Second, Evans; Third, Ford.
T: 2:45. A: 41,914.