BOSTON, SEPT. 28 -- The Toronto Blue Jays were the ones who collapsed tonight. Improbable hero Jeff Stone's line drive over a drawn-in outfield off closer Tom Henke provided the final twist to a tortuous night at Fenway Park that gave the Boston Red Sox the temporary upper hand in the American League East with a dramatic 7-6 victory before a frenzied 35,735.

The lead changed three times the last two innings of the first game in this crucial weekend showdown, finally ending on Stone's one-out single in a two-run ninth.

On an evening in which the Red Sox began and finished well -- in between they wavered between ecstasy and gloom -- Stone, 29, seemed to be the least likely man on the Boston bench to deliver the decisive blow.

A member of the hapless 1988 Baltimore Orioles, he was recalled Sept. 1 and hadn't had a major league hit since an infield single off Henke in July 1989. And the Red Sox had left-handers Danny Heep and Phil Plantier available.

"It was a big surprise to me," Stone said. "I didn't think I'd get up there. . . . I'm on Cloud 10 right now. I may be the happiest man alive. This is my 27th day here, and I hadn't faced live pitching yet. I'd forgotten what an at-bat was."

The Red Sox needed help, some of seemingly divine nature. Reliever Jeff Gray served up a two-run, ninth-inning home run to Junior Felix to give Toronto a 6-5 lead -- after back-to-back throwing errors by Blue Jays third baseman Kelly Gruber had handed Boston a 5-4 lead in the eighth.

But Henke walked Jody Reed to open the Boston ninth, then one out later walked Wade Boggs. Ellis Burks and Mike Greenwell singled to tie the game at 6, and Stone -- in the game only because he ran for Dwight Evans in the eighth -- yanked a fastball over Felix in right field to end the game.

"It just kills you to lose one of these," Gruber said. "You don't know how this hurts. . . . We'll have to regroup and come back at them, but it really hurts."

The night initially didn't promise to be so intriguing. Blue Jays starter Dave Stieb yielded sixth-inning home runs to Boggs and Tom Brunansky that upped Boston's 1-0 lead to 4-0. And Mike Boddicker retired 15 of 16 Blue Jays between the second and seventh innings.

But he and reliever Larry Andersen gave away that advantage quickly in a four-run seventh. "And everthing else was a blur," Greenwell said in the boisterous postgame clubhouse.

Gruber's misadventures quickly broke the 4-4 deadlock. He made back-to-back brilliant stops of sharply-hit grounders by Greenwell and Evans with one out in the eighth. But each time, he threw the ball into the Red Sox' dugout for two-base errors and Boston's third unearned run of the game.

"What can I say? I blew it," he said. "I made some costly mistakes. I let us down. I thought my teammates had picked me up, but then it all ended so badly."

Felix temporarily offset Gruber's sins by following catcher Greg Myers's leadoff single in the ninth with his 14th homer -- a line drive to right. But Henke (2-3) blew his fifth of 36 save chances. "I can't talk about it yet," he said as he left the clubhouse.

The Red Sox lead the Blue Jays by a game with five to go, including two more in this series. The Red Sox are 9-2 against Toronto this year, including 5-0 here. Jeff Reardon (4-3) won with an inning of relief.

In a battle of clubs with legacies of late-season disappointments, the Red Sox took the first step toward exorcism. "This was the big one," Manager Joe Morgan said. "Along with {Saturday} and Sunday."

Both pitchers began shakily. Brunansky's diving catch in right field bailed Boddicker out of a two-on, one-out jam in the first. Stieb was not as fortunate, although his fate might have been worse in the four-hit, one-run bottom of the inning.

Carlos Quintana, Boggs, Burks and Greenwell singled consecutively to provide a 1-0 lead and load the bases. But Stieb got Evans to pop out and Brunansky to ground out.

Stieb, like Boddicker, was in a groove until the sixth. He had retired 11 straight batters and 14 of 15 when Boggs led off by hitting a 3-2 fastball into the right field seats for his sixth homer and first since June 28. It was his first off Stieb.

Boggs entered tonight in a one-for-20 slide and hitless in 12 at-bats. He had come under fire of late for departing from his usual patient approach in what almost certainly will be a failed attempt to reach 200 hits for an eighth straight season (he has 183).

The Blue Jays' generosity helped the Red Sox pad their lead. Tony Fernandez botched Burks's routine grounder, and two outs later, the error turned into two unearned runs when Brunansky hit a fastball over the center field wall for his 11th home run and a 4-0 lead.

But the Blue Jays' reply was swift, as they chased Boddicker and tied in the seventh with their first runs against the Red Sox in 33 innings.

Boddicker helped by plunking George Bell and pinch hitter Jim Eppard; pinch hitter Rance Mulliniks singled home a run, then, against Andersen, Felix got a run home with a grounder and Mookie Wilson and Fernandez singled runs home.

"We gave it our best shot," Gruber said. "It looked like no one wanted it out there, but everyone wanted it -- probably too badly. We squeezed a little too tight and it slipped through our fingers."