Red Sox 5, Blue Jays 4
Down by three runs with their playoff push in trouble and the Yankees packing bags for a weekend showdown at Fenway Park, the Boston Red Sox suddenly found themselves in need of a late-inning spark -- and fast.
Sounds like a job for David Ortiz.
Ortiz saved the Red Sox again, pulling them from desperation to delirium just in time for a crucial series with New York.
The Red Sox most valuable player award contender tied the game in the eighth inning with his AL-leading 47th homer, then singled home the winning run in the ninth to give Boston a critical 5-4 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday night.
"The best thing that ever happened to this team was winning this game tonight," Ortiz said. "Everybody was on their toes."
The Red Sox (93-66) enter their season-ending three-game series with the Yankees (94-65) trailing New York by one game. Boston would tie its rival by taking two of three, forcing a one-game playoff Monday in New York, and would win the division with a sweep.
Ortiz's homer was his 20th of the season that tied a game or put Boston ahead.
Rookie Jonathan Papelbon (3-1) pitched 22/3 scoreless innings for the win, and Manny Ramirez hit a two-run homer in the sixth off Jason Frasor that cut the deficit to 4-3.
Ortiz homered off Vinnie Chulk leading off the eighth, and Miguel Batista (5-8) allowed a one-out single in the ninth to Johnny Damon, who stole second.
Edgar Renteria walked, and Ortiz lined a 3-2 pitch into the shortstop hole as Damon easily scored.
As he rounded first, Ortiz raised both arms to the sky and was mobbed by teammates. The crowd chanted "MVP! MVP!"
"The Yankees won. Cleveland won. So we've got to pull this one out," Ortiz said moments after his winning hit.
After the homer, Ramirez walked and Jason Varitek singled to give the Red Sox runners at the corners with no outs, but John Olerud hit a shallow flyout, Bill Mueller struck out and Trot Nixon hit a liner to right-center that Vernon Wells grabbed with an outstanding sliding catch.
Toronto took a 1-0 lead in the second against Matt Clement when Eric Hinske doubled, stole third and went home when Varitek threw the ball into left field for an error.
Doubles by Aaron Hill and Frank Catalanotto made it 2-0 in the second before Boston scored in the bottom of the inning on Tony Graffanino's double, Damon's single and Edgar Renteria's groundout.
Catalanotto made it 4-1 in the fifth with his eighth homer, and Toronto appeared headed to its 12th win in 18 games against the Red Sox before Ramirez hit his 42nd homer.