The reason the monster performance by Betts didn't translate to a win is because Rick Porcello followed his best performance of his career with one of his worst starts this season.
But Betts put on a show nonetheless, cranking a single to lead off the game, ripping a triple in the second inning, then belting a double in the fourth. After a walk in the sixth, Betts worked the count 3-1 in his final at-bat with one out in the ninth. After fouling off a pitch right down the middle from Ken Giles, Betts hammered a solo homer to complete the cycle, the first in the Majors this season.
"I had plenty of guys letting me know what I needed," Betts said. "We were losing the game and I had to do what I could to try and win the game. I was just trying to win the game, so I was just trying to get on base."
On a night the 81-35 Sox saw their six-game winning streak come to an end, Betts gave his teammates a reason to smile. The Sox still took two out of three in Toronto and are 8-0-2 in their last 10 series. They lead the Yankees by eight games in the American League East.
"It's kind of nice on a night when we don't get the job done we have something good happen," Porcello said. "He hits for the cycle and we can definitely be excited for him and smile about that and go to Baltimore and do what we know how to do."
In truth, Holt was leading the cheers after Betts finished rounding the bases.
"He was happy," Betts said. "He brought me joy, for sure."
Betts became the 21st Red Sox player to hit for the cycle. The club has performed the feat 22 times, with the late Bobby Doerr the only one to do it twice. Betts became the first Red Sox player to hit for the cycle in a loss since Carl Yastrzemski on May 14, 1965, against the Tigers.
"Good day, but tough loss," Betts said. "Sucks that I did it in a loss, but turn the page and get ready for tomorrow."
As for Porcello, he fired a complete-game one-hitter on just 86 pitches against the Yankees his last time out. He wasn't close to that on Thursday, giving up six hits and seven runs in four-plus innings.
Staked to a 2-0 lead in the first, Porcello gave it right back in the bottom half. And when the Red Sox came back from the 4-2 deficit Porcello put them in to tie it in the fifth, he again gave it right back by allowing three runs in the bottom of the inning.
Porcello's two worst starts this season have both come at the hands of the Blue Jays, who belted him around for eight runs over two-plus innings on July 13.
"I was battling from the get-go, but just didn't have the command I wanted," Porcello said. "With our ballclub, our offense, we're never out of a game. Even if you don't have your best stuff, you try to battle back. I don't know what it is about that lineup, they do a nice job against me. They make me get in the strike zone, they draw some walks and they do some damage. I've got to figure something out against these guys to overcome that."
The other highlight for the Red Sox was J.D. Martinez smacking his MLB-leading 35th homer of the season in the fifth.
"[Mookie] and J.D. Martinez are the best in the game right now," Blue Jays first baseman Justin Smoak said. "So it's tough. I think Mookie hit a changeup, curveball, slider and fastball. He's a really good player. You hope he gets himself out, I guess."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED While Betts and Martinez came through yet again, another important development on Thursday was the 3-for-4 performance by Eduardo Nunez, who is finally heating up after a tough first few months of the season. In his last 12 games, Nunez is hitting .360 with three doubles, two triples, seven RBIs and an .885 OPS. His two-run single in the first was perfectly placed into right field.
SOUND SMART Betts joined Holt and Leon Culberson as the only three Red Sox players to hit for the cycle out of the leadoff spot.
The last Red Sox player to complete a cycle with a home run was fan favorite Dwight Evans, who did so on June 28, 1984, against the Mariners. More >
HE SAID IT "I don't know how you can have a better year [than Betts] until you look at the guy hitting a couple spots behind him. I'd vote them co-MVPs on this day if I had to." -- Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, on Betts and Martinez
UP NEXT Nathan Eovaldi (5-4, 3.38 ERA) will try to continue his hot start for the Red Sox when he opens a four-game series against the Orioles on Friday night. Eovaldi has started his career with Boston with 15 scoreless innings en route to wins over the Twins and Yankees. The Orioles counter with righty Dylan Bundy (7-10, 4.38 ERA). First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. ET.