Magic returns to rivalry with Jays in Boston's win
Napoli drives in three runs, including winner, in back-and-forth-affair
TORONTO -- For Red Sox fans who go back a couple of decades or more, Friday night's contest against the Blue Jays probably had them reminiscing about the teams' fierce American League East rivalry in the late 1980s and early '90s.
Only this time, Wade Boggs, Ellis Burks and Roger Clemens weren't playing for Boston. And Roberto Alomar, Joe Carter and Dave Winfield -- the Toronto stars of that era -- have long since retired.
At last, the buzz is back between these AL East rivals, and the Red Sox edged out the Blue Jays, 6-4, in a thriller in front of 45,328 at Rogers Centre.
If John Farrell's decision to leave the Blue Jays' helm after just two years to manage the Red Sox created much of the high-voltage energy that was prevalent on Friday, that's fine.
Nobody is ever going to complain about a postseason atmosphere in April.
"Again, this game is always going to be about the players," Farrell said. "Given the circumstances, the fans had fun with it. It was a great crowd. The energy they created, it was just an outstanding night. It was a great atmosphere to play this game in."
And as Farrell alluded to, players made the difference in this game, not the manager.
For the Red Sox, Mike Napoli was particularly big. After going 2-for-14 in Boston's opening series in New York, the first baseman drove in three runs, including a two-run homer in the top of the fifth that gave his team a 4-1 lead.
"It was a fun game," said Napoli, who also drove in the winning run with a groundout in the eighth. "The crowd was really into it. It was a good game on both sides."
Considering the Red Sox went 2-for-19 with runners in scoring position, Napoli's homer was critical.
"It always feels good to hit a homer. I haven't been feeling too good at the plate," Napoli said. "My timing's been off a little bit. But I'm working every day with it and feeling better and better every at-bat."
Though Napoli's homer -- the first of the season for Boston -- seemed to give the Sox momentum, this game swayed back and forth.
The Jays chipped their way back from that 4-1 deficit and completed the comeback when Jose Reyes, who had four hits on the night, drilled a solo homer to tie the game in the seventh against Junichi Tazawa.
"I'll tell you what, Reyes obviously showed his abilities tonight," Farrell said. "[Tazawa's] split-finger on a 1-0 pitch just didn't get quite the depth and stayed in the middle. [Reyes is] a pretty electric looking player for sure."
But there was no deflation in Boston's dugout. Jonny Gomes pinch-hit for Daniel Nava and jump-started an eighth-inning rally with a one-out walk. Dustin Pedroia drilled a double to left-center, putting runners on second and third with one out.
"You know, Dustin is one of our leaders, there's no question about it," Farrell said. "I think the key was Jonny Gomes getting on base, reaching via the walk. Dustin is such a good hitter. He gets into good counts consistently. When he squared the ball up, I thought it had a chance to get out of here. He does so much for us, whether it's at the plate or in the field. He is certainly one of the guys we look to for leadership."
Then it was Napoli's turn. He didn't go deep this time, but his grounder to third, which Maicer Izturis made a terrific play on, was enough to get a run home and put the Sox ahead for good. After fielding the ball from his knees, the only play Izturis had was at first, where he narrowly got Napoli.
"I was just trying to put it in play somewhere, especially with two strikes," said Napoli. "Just do what happened, try to make something happen. Jonny got a good read at third base going on contact. It was a big run for us."
Will Middlebrooks gave the Sox some insurance by smashing a solo homer to left off Jeremy Jeffress to open the ninth.
"I was looking in," said Middlebrooks. "Normally, guys who throw hard, they'll go soft away, and they'll come hard in next pitch and try to beat you."
It was a so-so first start of the season for Sox lefty Felix Doubront. He went five-plus innings, allowing nine hits and three runs before he exited with a runner on and no outs in the sixth. Doubront walked none and struck out six.
The lefty took a no decision while Tazawa, despite giving up the long ball to Reyes, picked up the win.
The Red Sox are off to a 3-1 start.
"For those who maybe only see our dugout on TV, the amount of positive comments and guys pulling for one another, this is a very good group that's coming together pretty darn quick," said Farrell.
And one thing a tight-knit team can usually do is thrive amid a hostile crowd.
"You know, hostile environment, that's huge for the home team, it really is," said Gomes. "You get those little goosebumps going to the plate with the house going crazy. At the same time, it's a quick character check with the boys coming in from the road. It's a good character check right out of the gate."