TORONTO -- In danger of losing five in a row for the first time this season, the Red Sox instead combined a gritty starting pitching performance by Thomas Pomeranz with several strong defensive plays and a 4-for-4 night from Christian Vazquez en route to an important 6-5 victory over the Blue Jays in Monday's opener of a three-game series at Rogers Centre.
With the Yankees losing to the Indians, the Red Sox pushed their lead in the American League East to 3 1/2 games. It was the opener of a seven-game road trip that will finish with a four-game series at Yankee Stadium.
"I think any time you get out on the road, particularly after the four games we're coming off of, to get back in the win column is big," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "Obviously with [the Yankees losing] in New York tonight, we create a little bit more space. We came out and we put together a good effort tonight."
In defeat, the Jays got an amazing grab from center fielder Kevin Pillar, who raced to the gap in right-center and dove in front of the scoreboard to rob Mookie Betts of extra bases in the sixth. At the time, the catch preserved a one-run lead. According to Statcast™, it was a 4-Star catch with a 38 percent catch probability. Pillar needed to cover 82 feet in 4.6 seconds. He also hit a sprint speed of 29.8 feet per second.
• Best player reactions to Pillar's Superman-like catch
"He has to get a Gold Glove at some point," Toronto starter Marcus Stroman said of the play behind him. "What he does every day is ridiculous. I'm just happy to have him back there saving me runs, saving me from working out of trouble. He's been huge for me all year. He shows up every single day. He grinds. He's a special player."
Shortly thereafter, the Red Sox turned the tables. Trailing, 3-2, in the seventh, Vazquez unloaded for a two-run homer into the second deck in left field against righty reliever Danny Barnes that gave the Red Sox their first lead. Boston added insurance runs in the inning on an RBI single by Mitch Moreland and a bases-loaded walk to Xander Bogaerts.
The homer by Vazquez -- his fourth of the season -- came on an 0-2 fastball by Barnes.
"Always with two strikes, they pitch me up-and-in," said Vazquez. "I was looking for that."
Pomeranz (14-4, 3.23 ERA) battled throughout his six-inning performance and minimized the damage, giving up three runs while working around five walks and seven hits. The lefty moved into a tie with teammate Chris Sale and Kansas City's Jason Vargas for the AL lead in wins.
"That was pretty much a battle straight from the beginning," said Pomeranz. "Just struggled with my command of pretty much everything for most of the game, but I was able to make a few pitches when I needed to the most, and we made some really great plays out there to get us out of jams."
Craig Kimbrel worked around a two-run shot by Justin Smoak -- his 36th homer -- in the ninth to earn his 30th save.
Stroman turned in a strong performance, allowing just one earned run over six innings in which he walked none and struck out four. He left with a 3-2 lead, but the bullpen couldn't hang on.
"I thought I had a good mix," Stroman said. "Kind of went to some of my offspeed more today, but I felt like it's a tough lineup over there one through nine. They battle. They take really good pitches. They work counts. So any time you can keep that team to under three runs, it's tough to do. I did everything in my power just to keep my team in the game as late as I could."
The Jays jumped out in front early on a two-out, two-run double by Kendrys Morales in the first. Boston sliced the lead to 2-1 when Hanley Ramirez scored from third on a throwing error by catcher Raffy Lopez on Vazquez's steal of second. Eduardo Nunez tied it up for the Red Sox by smashing a homer to left to lead off the third.
Thanks to an RBI single by Ryan Goins in the fourth, Toronto was back on top, 3-2. That's how it stayed until the Red Sox stole the momentum in the seventh.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Bold throw by Devers cuts down run: WIth the bases loaded and one out in the fifth, Rafael Devers made a big-time play for the Red Sox at third base. Pillar hit a grounder toward the line that Devers fielded about 20 feet behind the bag. It seemed like a bold move to throw home on a play like that, but that's exactly what Devers did, making a perfect throw to force out Josh Donaldson.
Slumping Hanley starts big rally: Demoted to the No. 7 spot for the first time this season, a slumping Ramirez laced a single to center to lead off the game-turning top of the seventh. Just after the single by Ramirez, Vazquez launched his homer to put Boston in front. Ramirez had a double earlier in the game and scored twice.
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
With the win, the Red Sox are one of five teams not to have a five-game losing streak.
For the sixth time in 2017, Stroman tossed a quality start and came away with a no-decision.
Red Sox: When Sale (14-6, 2.88 ERA) takes the mound for Tuesday's middle game of this series, he will be coming off back-to-back, non-quality starts for the first time this season. Sale's last outing was his shortest as a member of the Red Sox, as he was belted around for seven hits and seven runs (six earned) over three innings. First pitch is scheduled for 7:07 p.m. ET.
Blue Jays: Left-hander Brett Anderson (2-2, 8.18 ERA) will make his first Blue Jays start in game two of the series Tuesday. Anderson signed a Minor League deal earlier this month after being released by the Cubs and has made two starts at Triple-A Buffalo, allowing just one earned run on four hits over a combined 9 2/3 innings.
Watch every out-of-market regular-season game live on MLB.TV.