BOSTON, SEPT. 30 -- In a fitting ode to this often-bizarre American League East race, the Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox today managed to craft some intrigue from a maddening, 3 1/2-hour procession of horrific baseball.
By the time the clubs were done misplaying outs into hits and committing sins that are permitted among contenders only in the game's most forgiving division, the Blue Jays had pounded five pitchers along the way to a less than aesthetic 10-5 victory before 34,403 at Fenway Park, trimming Toronto's AL East deficit to one game.
The Blue Jays (85-74), who broke a four-game losing skid and ended Boston's four-game winning streak, tied a season high with 19 hits in averting a Red Sox sweep in this weekend showdown series that was the best-attended three-day set in Fenway history.
Toronto amassed 14 hits in the first five innings -- four of them by first baseman Fred McGriff, whose three RBI ended a 16-game stretch in which he hadn't driven in a run. Mookie Wilson, Tony Fernandez and George Bell each had three hits.
But this ugly afternoon was perhaps best personified by Blue Jays third baseman Kelly Gruber, who didn't have a hit but was on base four times and scored three runs. Gruber walked twice and reached on a third-strike wild pitch and a ground ball that went between the legs of third baseman Wade Boggs.
"I was blessed," Gruber said. "Everyone in this clubhouse was blessed today, I guess."
Said Toronto Manager Cito Gaston: "For us, it was a good game. It's not pretty if you lose. It is pretty if you win."
There was not a groundswell of agreement with Gaston's assessment. When the wind is blowing out at Fenway, 15 runs is not a surprising total. The manner in which that sum was achieved today, however, was not becoming of high-stakes September baseball.
There was Boston starter Greg Harris's curveball getting past catcher Tony Pena in the first, nullifying Gruber's inning-ending strikeout and leading to a Toronto run. There was Harris forcing Pena to make more saves than a hockey goalie during an adventuresome 1 2/3-inning, four-run outing.
There were the Blue Jays stranding eight runners through the first three innings and still leading by 4-1. There was the Red Sox' bullpen yielding 14 hits and six runs over 7 1/3 innings of work.
There were errors and there was questionable base running on both sides. There was the left field follies of Bell, who turned a single and two outs into three doubles in a two-inning span.
Even Tom Brunansky could not save the Red Sox (86-73) today. Brunansky had a seventh-inning home run off starter Jimmy Key to increase his series total to five homers and seven RBI. And he made his second defensive gem of the weekend -- a lunging, tumbling catch of Pat Borders's bases-loaded looper in the second inning.
But Toronto broke a 4-4 deadlock with a three-run, five-hit sixth against Joe Hesketh and Wes Gardner, then sealed the result with a three-run seventh aided by Boggs's error.
Boston's high-intensity victories Friday and Saturday gave the Red Sox a chance to clinch at least a tie for the division title today. Instead, the Blue Jays left tonight for Baltimore -- where they will finish the regular season with a three-game series against the Orioles -- still confident that they can finish their return from a 6 1/2-game deficit 26 days ago.
"If we had lost today, it would've been all she wrote," McGriff said. "We've got to go win three games at Baltimore and hope for the best."
The Red Sox will close at home with three games against the Chicago White Sox. Boston is 49-29 at Fenway, and the Red Sox have made a remarkable recovery from their 6-15 slide that turned over first place to the Blue Jays.
Toronto, meanwhile, won for the third time in nine games and the second time during its season-ending, nine-game road trip. The Blue Jays won for the first time in seven games at Fenway this year, after taking a 15-game winning streak here into the season.
Barring a one-game divisional playoff that would be held Thursday in Toronto, the Red Sox finished 10-3 against Toronto this year.
"We did the job we set out to do this weekend, even if we didn't finish it off well today," outfielder Mike Greenwell said. "Now we have to take care of business against the White Sox. We're in control."
Boston has a problem with its supposed No. 3 starter, Harris. The converted reliever is wearing down under the strain of a 184 1/3-inning season, and a monthlong downward spiral accelerated today.
McGriff, Bell and John Olerud followed the first-inning wild pitch to Gruber with singles to provide the Blue Jays with a 1-0 lead.
After Jody Reed hit a leadoff double off the Green Monster and Boggs provided a single that tied the game at 1, Harris -- who has permitted 27 runs in 28 innings over six September starts -- yielded two singles and two walks in a five-hitter span to start the second.
McGriff's run-scoring single greeted Hesketh (0-4) and gave Toronto a 4-1 advantage. Bell's failings afield helped the Red Sox reach 4-4, but Junior Felix's homer and McGriff's two-run single in the fifth put the Blue Jays ahead for good.
"I didn't pitch any masterpiece," said Key, who surrendered nine hits and five runs over 6 2/3 innings in improving to 13-7. "But we had enough offense that I didn't need to."
And this topsy-turvy race took one more -- and perhaps not the final -- twist.
"We had a chance" to put the race to rest today, Red Sox Manager Joe Morgan said, "but they just beat the hell out of us. . . . We're happy to win two out of three, and they're happy to win today."