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Blue Jays grind out 13-inning win over Red Sox

TORONTO — It may not have been the most emphatic walk-off hit of Whit Merrifield's career, but his RBI single in the 13th inning on Saturday may have been the biggest. Merrifield's self-described swinging bunt scored Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Mauricio Llovera, left, reacts as Toronto Blue Jays players stream onto the field after he gave up a walk off RBI single to the Jays' Whit Merrifield during thirteenth inning American League MLB baseball action in Toronto, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO — It may not have been the most emphatic walk-off hit of Whit Merrifield's career, but his RBI single in the 13th inning on Saturday may have been the biggest.

Merrifield's self-described swinging bunt scored Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and lifted the Blue Jays to a badly needed 4-3 win over the Boston Red Sox to keep Toronto's playoff hopes alive. Merrifield said the only play that was comparable in his baseball life was his line drive to win the College World Series for South Carolina in 2010.

"Tonight was a good one," said Merrifield. "I mean, frankly, besides the walk off I had in college to win the championship, that was probably the biggest hit in the biggest game that I've had. 

"Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good."

Daulton Varsho's RBI triple with two outs in the bottom of the ninth tied it 2-2 for Toronto (82-67) and Bo Bichette's sacrifice fly in the 12th tied it again. Guerrero had a solo home run in the seventh.

The win moved the Blue Jays into the American League's third wild-card berth, half a game ahead of the Seattle Mariners, who dropped a 6-2 decision in 11 innings to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday night. The Jays are half a game behind the Texas Rangers who lost 2-1 to the Cleveland Guardians, also on Saturday.

The Mariners hold the tiebreak over Toronto with a better regular-season record within their division.

"At this point of the year, any win is going to be a good confidence boost," said Merrifield. "Hopefully, it'll be good momentum but tomorrow's a new day, gotta wake up and come to the field."

Chris Bassitt gave up two runs on four hits and three walks over seven innings with five strikeouts. Tim Mayza, Erik Swanson, Jordan Romano of Markham, Ont., Jordan Hicks and Chad Green (3-0) came out of the Blue Jays bullpen.

"If you don't have pitching you don't have a chance. If you don't play defence, you don't have a chance," said Bassitt. "We have both and then it's just get the right hitters hot at the right time and that's the run." projected that Toronto's chances of making the post-season improved to 57.6 per cent from 48.3 per cent thanks to the win.

Rafael Devers had a two-run homer in the sixth to back Chris Sale's superb start for Boston (74-75). Pablo Reyes had an RBI single in the 12th inning.

Sale flirted with a no-hitter, but ultimately allowed a run on two hits, striking out 10 over six innings. Relievers Josh Winckowski, Brennan Bernardino, Chris Martin John Schreiber, Nick Robertson, Zack Weiss and Mauricio Llovera (1-3) followed Sale to the mound.

Sale's no-hit bid ended in the fifth when Toronto catcher Alejandro Kirk had a two-out single. Kirk tried to stretch the hit into a double, however, and right-fielder Alex Verdugo fired the ball to second for an easy out.

Devers broke open the scoreless game in the sixth with his 32nd home run of the year plating Wilyer Abreu for a 2-0 Boston lead.

Bassitt completed the seventh to reach a new high for innings pitched in a season with 185 2/3, surpassing his previous best of 181 2/3 with the New York Mets last year. His five Ks on Saturday gave him a total of 166 strikeouts in 2023, one away from his career best, also last year.

Those personal accomplishments didn't matter to Bassitt though.

"We won the game," said Bassitt with a shrug.

Guerrero cut into the Red Sox's lead with a solo home run in the seventh. It was Guerrero's third consecutive game with a homer.

"He's on time and seeing the ball early and putting good swings on pitches which is what you want to do as a hitter," said Merrifield of Guerrero. "When he's doing that he's hitting balls. Hard. Really hard."

Pinch-hitter Cavan Biggio singled in the ninth, then advanced on Schreiber's wild pitch to move into scoring position. 

Varsho drove him in with a triple to tie the game 2-2 and electrify the sold-out Rogers Centre crowd of 42,276.

After two scoreless innings, Reyes came to the plate with one out and Verdugo on second as part of Major League Baseball's new rules to quicken the pace of play. Reyes singled to centre to drive in Verdugo and re-take the lead.

But Bichette answered in the bottom of the 12th, sending a fly ball to deep right field. Like Verdugo, Varsho had started the inning on second and scored on Bichette's sacrifice to force another inning.

That set up Merrifield's climactic at bat, driving in Guerrero who had started the 13th inning on second and advanced to third on Santiago Espinal's fielder's choice.

ON DECK — Left-handed pitcher Hyun Jin Ryu (3-3) will start for Toronto in the finale of its series with the Red Sox.

Nick Pivetta (9-9) will take the mound for Boston.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 16, 2023.

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press

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