BOSTON – The Red Sox have 50 wins by the end of June after getting 69 all last year. They’re in first place in the AL East one season after finishing last.
Boston’s turnaround rolled on with a 5-4 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday. There were smiles in the clubhouse but hardly a sense of satisfaction.
“With 50 wins, people are going to keep talking about that. It’s not enough,” Shane Victorino said. “We’ve got to keep going.”
His hard grounder eluded first baseman Josh Thole for an error as Jonathan Diaz raced home with the winning run in the ninth inning. Thole entered in the bottom of the third when Adam Lind left with mid-back tightness and Thole was playing first base for just the second time in 316 major league games.
“You’ve just got to know who to hit it to, I guess,” Victorino said with a smile. “I played against Josh all those years in New York and he was a catcher.”
Thole, acquired from the New York Mets along with pitcher R.A. Dickey in December, had played first at Triple-A Buffalo before he was called up on June 7.
“I’ve played first base. That’s what I’m here for,” he said. “I’ve got to catch the ball and make an out.”
Jose Bautista tied the game in the ninth against Koji Uehara (1-0) with a solo homer, his 19th of the season and third in two games. On the previous at-bat, Victorino made a sliding catch near the right-field line on Jose Reyes’ fly ball.
“I think a lot of people doubted this team, the capabilities that we had,” Victorino said. “We’ve got that target on our back because we’re in first place. But you know what? We’re up for the challenge.”
Brandon Snyder singled with one out in the bottom half against Juan Perez (1-1), Jacoby Ellsbury walked and Casey Janssen relieved. Diaz ran for Snyder, and Thole couldn’t handle Victorino’s shot.
The Red Sox won for the fifth time in six games and improved to an AL-best 50-34. For the first time since 2009, they’ve won 50 games before any other AL team. They also reached 50 wins by the end of June for the fourth time in team history following 1946, 1978 and 2008. Their longest losing streak is three games.
“We’ve been consistent,” Manager John Farrell said. “I think it speaks of overall depth of the team. It’s certainly not a milestone by any means. We’ve got a long way to go.”
Toronto has lost five of seven following an 11-game winning streak that tied the club record. At 40-41, the Blue Jays are in last place, 81/2 games behind the Red Sox.
“I don’t think it’s where we expected or wanted to be in spring training,” Toronto starter Mark Buehrle said. “Hopefully, we can go on some more winning streaks.”
Manager John Gibbons said the Blue Jays had plenty of chances before Thole’s error.
“That might be the most frustrating loss of the year right there,” he said. “I can’t remember that many opportunities.”
Reyes homered leading off the seventh, his second of the season and first since April 5. Reyes returned Wednesday after missing 66 games because of a severely sprained left ankle.
Boston starter Ryan Dempster allowed two runs, seven hits and three walks in 51/3 innings. Buehrle gave up four runs and seven hits in six innings.
Ryan Lavarnway’s RBI double and Snyder’s two-run double gave Boston a 3-0 lead in the second. It was the first big-league hit of the season for Snyder, brought up from Triple-A on Tuesday when struggling third baseman Will Middlebrooks was sent to Pawtucket.
Colby Rasmus’ RBI single and Maicer Izturis’ run-scoring forceout cut the gap to 3-2 in the fourth.
After Jonny Gomes’ RBI double boosted the margin in the fifth, the Blue Jays loaded the bases with no outs in the sixth on a walk to Thole and singles by Rajai Davis and Rasmus. Dempster got J.P. Arencibia to pop out, and Craig Breslow retired Izturis on a popout and then struck out pinch-hitter Emilio Bonifacio.
NOTES: Davis’ stolen base in the fourth was his fifth in three days. … Boston SS Stephen Drew missed his second game with a right hamstring injury. … After a day off Monday, the Red Sox begin their last series of a nine-game homestand with the first of three against San Diego. Robbie Erlin (1-0) pitches for San Diego against John Lackey (5-5).