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Tomase: Red Sox display fight they'll need to survive rugged AL East

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Alex Verdugo

Nick Pivetta wasn't having it. Alex Verdugo refused to give in. Matt Strahm made damn sure not to let it slip away.

Fresh off one of their most demoralizing losses of the season, the Red Sox reminded us what they're made of with an absolutely-gotta-have-it victory in Toronto on Wednesday night that offered a compelling reminder of their resilience.

We shouldn't necessarily need it, not after watching them erase a seven-game wild card deficit with their best June in more than 60 years. But considering how they lost on Tuesday, with unvaccinated closer Tanner Houck unavailable and manager Alex Cora sounding uncharacteristically aggravated following the walk-off defeat, they had two options on Wednesday: extend the slide as happened the last time they visited Toronto in April, or stop it in its tracks.

They chose door No. 2 in a method befitting their return to contention. The fiery Pivetta calmed down without backing down after hitting catcher Alejandro Kirk and emptying the dugouts. Verdugo remained red-hot with a go-ahead homer in the sixth and a two-out, two-run double in the 10th. Franchy Cordero recorded four hits. And Strahm sweated out the save by retiring the dangerous George Springer on a pop-up with the tying run on third to end the 6-5 victory.

"You don't ever want to get swept," Verdugo told reporters in Toronto. "Especially after yesterday's game, giving it to them late in the last inning and them coming back and winning. And them kind of doing the same thing today. They fought back in the eighth or the ninth or whatever it was. We're happy to get the 'W', avoid the sweep and get one of three. In our minds we should have won two of three. We had a good game yesterday. Maybe didn't have one of our guys to close it out or whatever it may be. But to pull it out is huge."

 

Before the game, Cora suggested that vaccinations won't be an issue when the Red Sox return to Toronto on Sept. 30. During his radio interview with WEEI, he apologized for losing his cool with the media. Rather than spinning out of control, the Red Sox appeared to be reeling things back in.

They still needed to deal with one of the best pitchers in the American League in hulking right-hander Alex Manoah, who started the day 9-2 with a 2.05 ERA. He was going up against a fighter in Pivetta, however, who was 8-1 with a 2.03 ERA in his previous nine starts.

Something would have to give, and in the early going, it looked to be Pivetta, who allowed hard contact in the first, a run in the second, and then lit a powder keg in the third when he drilled Kirk in the elbow. Blue Jays star Vladimir Guerrero Jr. threw up his arms in outrage, manager Charlie Montoyo raced onto the field to complain, and both dugouts piled onto the field.

WATCH: Red Sox, Blue Jays benches clear after Pivetta hits Kirk

There's pretty much no chance Pivetta hit Kirk intentionally -- Christian Vazquez wanted a fastball up and it just ran in -- but the dugouts were warned anyway. Pivetta had particularly choice words for Guerrero that looked to resemble the chant Celtics fans dropped on Draymond Green and Kyrie Irving during the playoffs.

"He was yelling at me," Pivetta told reporters. "I didn't think it was necessary for him to come out and start screaming at me. So that got me fired up and everybody else got fired up."

The Red Sox still trailed 2-1 in the sixth before Xander Bogaerts hustled to beat out an infield single and Verdugo unloaded on a fastball. His two-run shot gave the Red Sox a 3-2 lead that lasted until the Blue Jays tied it in the eighth off Ryan Brasier, with center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. just missing Raimel Tapia's double on the dive.

"I'm feeling locked in right now," Verdugo told reporters. "I like where my head's at, my swing, what I'm doing with the ball, going from the left field line to the right field line. I'm just going to keep that approach."

He delivered again in the 10th after Bogaerts grounded into a 3-2-3 double play that briefly looked like it would kill a bases-loaded, no-out rally. But Verdugo provided insurance that proved pivotal with a booming two-run double the other way that raised his average to .266, the highest it has been since late April.

 

Strahm made everyone queasy by serving up three straight two-out hits in the bottom of the 10th before popping out Springer and giving the Red Sox exactly the kind of win they needed just one night after a crushing defeat.

"I think the biggest thing is we showed fight," Pivetta told reporters. "We showed fight the entire way through and it was just an all-around good team win."