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J.D.'s big swing, catch carry Red Sox over Jays

AL East leaders notch MLB-best 19th win, go 6-3 on road trip
MLB.com @IanMBrowne

TORONTO -- When the Red Sox needed a big swing on Thursday night at Rogers Centre, J.D. Martinez provided it. And earlier in the game, when they needed a big catch on a fly ball to deep right, Martinez also came through.

The slugger's three-run shot to right-center with two outs in the fifth and running grab in front of the wall in the first helped lift the Red Sox to 5-4 victory over the Blue Jays in the finale of a nine-game road trip.

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TORONTO -- When the Red Sox needed a big swing on Thursday night at Rogers Centre, J.D. Martinez provided it. And earlier in the game, when they needed a big catch on a fly ball to deep right, Martinez also came through.

The slugger's three-run shot to right-center with two outs in the fifth and running grab in front of the wall in the first helped lift the Red Sox to 5-4 victory over the Blue Jays in the finale of a nine-game road trip.

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"You know, even when he's struggling, you think he's one adjustment away to do damage," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. "He works so hard at it, he comes back and he goes to the tee and he goes to the cage and he watches video and he's always one adjustment away to change the game."

The Red Sox took six out of nine on the journey to Anaheim, Oakland and Toronto and head back to Boston with a 19-5 record -- the best in the Majors.

Video: BOS@TOR: Martinez covers ground for a run-saving grab

Martinez's catch on a drive by Lourdes Gurriel Jr. prevented one and possibly two runs from scoring.

"I was playing in, trying to protect against a little bleeder," Martinez said. "And he put some good wood and I turned around and ran just as fast as I could pretty much and caught up to it."

The homer couldn't have come at a better time, as it swung the score from a 3-2 deficit to a 5-3 lead for Boston.

"Big, obviously, it put us ahead," Martinez said. "So, huge. Seems like lately we've kind of been scuffling a little bit at the plate, trying to put up runs, so to get it done was huge." 

Video: BOS@TOR: Sale tosses six strong frames to get the win

 Martinez smacked a first-pitch, 88.9-mph fastball from Jays right-hander Marco Estrada to give ace Chris Sale his first lead of the night.

"That's the kind of guy he is," Sale said. "He does some pretty incredible things with that bat, and I'm appreciative of it tonight."

It was Martinez's fifth homer of the season, and the type of big hit the Red Sox envisioned when they signed him to a five-year, $110 million contract during Spring Training.

"That's why we signed him," Cora said. "He's making a difference and I think he's going to be better throughout the year."

Video: BOS@TOR: Smoak muscles a solo home run to left field

As for Sale, he wasn't at his best, but he did enough to get the win. The lefty (2-1, 2.31 ERA) allowed four hits and three runs, including solo shots by Devon Travis and Justin Smoak. He walked two and struck out four.

"A dogfight from the get-go," Sale said. "Giving up a run in the first three innings is tough, but I got some stuff from A.C. and [pitching coach] Dana [LeVangie] came and sat down, and we kind of mixed some things up. The lineup today showed up. They carried us through that. But through and through, it was a grind."

The bullpen took it home. Matt Barnes worked out of jams in the seventh and eighth, and Craig Kimbrel pitched for the third straight day and got the save, his seventh.

Video: BOS@TOR: Kimbrel earns the save as Red Sox win, 5-4

"Give credit to the guys," Cora said. "They grinded it out. That was a tough one and to finish this road trip the way we did, it's outstanding."

All three games vs. Toronto were decided by one run.

"They've been really close," Estrada said. "We're just as good as any team, I believe. Every single one of these games, the two toughest teams in the division, we're right there with them. A lot of these games could have gone the other way and it's a good sign for us."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Barnes wiggles out of jams: With the Red Sox clinging to a one-run lead in the seventh, Cora brought on Barnes with the potential tying run on second and the dangerous Smoak at the plate. Barnes came up with the strikeout on a 2-2 curveball. In the eighth, he got himself into a jam with a couple of walks but worked his way out of it, striking out Luke Maile to end the inning and get the ball to Kimbrel with the lead. It was an important performance for Barnes, who will be counted on more until Joe Kelly returns from his six-game suspension on Wednesday.

Video: BOS@TOR: Barnes strikes out Maile, strands a pair

"Barnes has thrown the ball well," said Cora. "That fastball up like he did with Smoak and then the breaking ball, he's able to expand and the zone. [Barnes] and Christian [Vazquez], they did an outstanding job navigating through that [eighth] inning."

SOUND SMART
The 19-5 start by the Red Sox is the best by any team in MLB since the 2003 Yankees opened with a 20-4 mark.

HE SAID IT
"I was in between there, honestly. I know the pitch count was getting up. He's our ace. I tried to start the conversation and he stopped me right there. He was honest. He's like, 'I've got this guy, don't worry about it. I've got it.' He's not going to change my mind a lot of times, but usually when I don't want the guy to change my mind, I'll go right to the umpire before I get to the line.

"[On] that one, he's still Chris Sale. Even when he's not at his best, he's better than a lot of guys. With all due respect to our guys in the bullpen. He made a pitch. He stayed under 105, which was the goal. He gave us a chance to win." -- Cora, on his mound visit with Sale with two outs in the sixth and Randal Grichuk at the plate

MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
When Grichuk tapped a soft grounder to short with a Toronto rally in progress in the eighth, Tzu-Wei Lin, who had come on as a replacement for the ailing Brock Holt (left hamstring), had to make a do-or-die play. Lin fired across the diamond and first baseman Mitch Moreland went into his best stretch to corral the throw and stay on the bag. Grichuk was called out, but the Jays challenged. Fortunately for the Red Sox, there wasn't enough evidence to overturn it and the call stood.

Video: BOS@TOR: Grichuk ruled out as call stands in 8th

UP NEXT
The Red Sox get a key lineup piece back for Friday night's opener of the homestand against the Rays, as shortstop Xander Bogaerts returns from the disabled list. Lefty Drew Pomeranz makes his second start, and first this season at Fenway. Blake Snell goes for Tampa Bay, with first pitch set for 7:10 p.m. ET.

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

Boston Red Sox, Matt Barnes, Craig Kimbrel, J.D. Martinez, Chris Sale