There was no party. No champagne. No jumping in pools. Just a couple of hugs, handshakes and high-fives.
That’s how the Boston Red Sox celebrated clinching a postseason berth Thursday night after beating the Orioles, 3-1. Word around the Sox clubhouse is their next win, which would clinch the AL East division crown, will set off a much bigger celebration. The kind a team who had 93 losses a season ago would thoroughly enjoy. And why not? The turnaround the Red Sox (93-61) and Red Sox Nation has seen this year is worthy of a giant celebration in the bowels of Fenway Park – a celebration that a 101-year-old ballpark deserves to see to set the tone for the next century.
Fittingly, John Lackey threw a complete game on the bump at Fenway in front of a raucous ready-to-erupt crowd to clinch the playoff spot. And fittingly, it’s ole reliable Jon Lester on the mound tonight with the chance to win the division title against the Toronto Blue Jays (70-82) in the series opener of the regular season finale at Fenway. Even more fitting, perhaps, is that manager John Farrell will get a chance to clinch his first division title against the club which gave him his first managerial job and that which he left to come to Boston just 10 months ago.
Lester has been magnificent of late, giving up three earned runs or less in each of his last eight starts and has gone at least six innings during that span, including seven or more in six of the eight outings. Lester is 14-8 overall with a 3.75 ERA and is 4-1 over his last six starts. Overall since the All-Star Break, Lester is 6-2 with a 2.38 ERA with eight straight quality starts. And at home, Lester is 6-1 with a 3.25 ERA in 2013. Lastly, he is 3-0 with a 2.80 ERA against the Blue Jays this season.
Here is the lineup for the Red Sox tonight (first pitch – 7:10 pm EDT):
1. Pedroia, 2B
2. Nava, RF
3. Ortiz, DH
4. Napoli, 1B
5. Carp, LF
6. Saltalamacchia, C
7. Middlebrooks, 3B
8. Drew, SS
9. Bradley Jr., CF
Esmil Rogers gets the nod for the woebegone Blue Jays. Rogers is just 5-7 with a 4.47 ERA this season, but hasn’t lost in his last six starts (2-0). He began that stretch of six appearances with a six-inning, one-run outing against Boston on Aug. 14 – a game in which the Jays went on to win 4-3 in extra innings.
Victorino a late scratch
Farrell’s initial lineup had Shane Victorino batting second and playing center. About 30 minutes late, a new lineup was posted with Victorino out and Jackie Bradley Jr. in. Victorino has been in and out of the Sox lineups lately, nursing some bumps and bruises – most recently a jammed right thumb – and hopefully getting recharged for a deep playoff run in October. Bradley ended a four-game hitless streak by going 2-for-3 yesterday against Baltimore. It was just the second game of his career that Bradley had multiple hits.
Rotation set for weekend
Farrell tweaked the Red Sox pitching rotation for the weekend, moving Clay Buchholz to Saturday and Felix Doubront to Sunday. Doubront was skipped in his last start and many are speculating that he will be relegated to the bullpen for the playoffs. The move also sets up Lester and Buchholz as the 1-2 starters to begin the playoffs, likely with Lackey and Jake Peavy for games three and, if necessary, four in the ALDS. The question mark is Ryan Dempster and whether or not he will be a part of the rotation or in the pen.
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