TORONTO — A massive nine-run outburst in the fifth inning sent the Blue Jays in flight to a significant victory in the opener of their crucial four-game set against the Boston Red Sox on Friday.
The Blue Jays belted out nine of their 17 hits in the fifth, including a two-run smash homer down the left-field line from Lourdes Gurriel Jr., as part of a 12-4 win before a crowd of 14,719.
Since returning to Rogers Centre after a 22-month hiatus, the Jays (58-49) have won seven of eight and pieced together the American League’s best record at 25-14 since June 19.
The series opener between the AL East rivals took an intense turn after Red Sox reliever Hansel Robles replaced starter Nathan Eovaldi. Robles yielded a single to Toronto catcher Alejandro Kirk and then plunked Randal Grichuk inches above his left elbow. Both dugouts were warned after the incident.
But hostilities lingered. There was some chirping between Robles and the Toronto players. Some Blue Jays, including pitcher Jose Berrios, took a few steps out of the dugout as Robles stared down his opponents. Berrios and Robles were Minnesota Twins teammates last week before being traded to Toronto and Boston, respectively.
The Red Sox (64-47) scored back-to-back runs in the fourth and fifth innings but left the bases loaded in the fifth as Jays starter Alek Manoah pitched out the jam by getting J.D. Martinez to pop up to first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Toronto then sent 14 batters to the plate in the bottom half of the inning. Consecutive doubles from Kirk, Grichuk and third baseman Breyvic Valera tied the game.
A Bo Bichette single gave the Blue Jays the lead, and a Teoscar Hernandez double to left-centre added two more runs. Gurriel then snuck his 12th homer of the year down the left-field line for a 7-2 advantage.
A George Springer double knocked in two more runs off Robles before the fifth inning concluded. Eovaldi (9-7) surrendered seven runs on eight hits.
Manoah (4-1) was finished after his five innings and 93 pitches. He allowed four hits, three walks and struck out four Red Sox.
Boston right-fielder Hunter Renfroe hit a one-out, two-run homer off Toronto reliever Ryan Borucki in the sixth. Still, the Blue Jays managed another run in the bottom half with a Marcus Semien double and a Hernandez RBI single.
Hernandez led his team with three hits and three RBI.
Springer’s seventh-inning triple scored Grichuk.
The Red Sox, who own the third-best record in the AL, lost for the seventh time in eight outings and have gone 9-11 since the all-star break.
Tim Wharnsby, The Canadian Press