BOSTON – Popup after popup, Tim Wakefield could tell that his knuckleball had returned.
The Red Sox right-hander held Toronto to five hits over eight innings, and Boston got some help from the bottom of the batting order to beat the AL East-leading Blue Jays 2-1 on Tuesday night.
“Swings and misses and popups are usually good signs the ball is moving pretty well,” said Wakefield, who got 16 of his 24 outs on fly balls – eight of them that never left the infield. “Tonight was just one of those nights when I had very good stuff. I was trying to keep them off-balance and get a win.”
Wakefield (5-2) also got four groundouts and a caught stealing. He gave up a solo homer to former teammate Kevin Millar, but no other Blue Jays made it as far as third base.
Another popup fell for a hit when second baseman Dustin Pedroia and first baseman Jeff Bailey let it land between them with one out and one on in the eighth inning. But Red Sox manager Terry Francona gave Wakefield the chance to work out of trouble, and he got Alex Rios and Vernon Wells on fly balls to left.
“It seemed like every time you looked up there was a popup to the infield,” Francona said. “We let the popup fall, and we still felt like he was good enough to get them out. And he was.”
Jonathan Papelbon pitched the ninth for his 11th save in 11 chances.
David Ortiz, who got a weekend off to try to snap out of a slump, returned to the lineup but went 0-for-3 with a walk and saw his batting average drop to .203. The slugger who hit 54 homers in 2006 has not homered in 147 at-bats dating to last September – the longest slump of his career.
“I talked to him today,” said Millar, a leader of the “idiot” clubhouse of 2004 that ended Boston’s 86-year World Series drought. “The important thing is to have fun. You start off with a rough spot and everything gets magnified. He’ll be OK. He’ll find his swing. It’s not how you start off in April and May. It’s what your average is at the end of the year.”
The crowd gave Ortiz a warm cheer for each of his first three plate appearances, but rose with a “Papi!” chant when he came to bat with a runner on first in the eighth.
He struck out.
“I thought he had a tough night,” Francona said. “It’s a lot better to talk about when we win.”
Instead, the Red Sox got their RBIs on a single by No. 8 hitter Bailey and a sacrifice fly from No. 9 hitter George Kottaras.
Brian Tallet (2-2) allowed two runs and four hits over six innings, walking two and striking out five. The game lasted just two hours 13 minutes.
“Nobody hit that ball,” Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said. “It was two well-pitched games.”
Wakefield had won four straight starts before allowing a season-high seven runs and 11 hits against the Los Angeles Angels last Wednesday.
Notes: The Red Sox are 14-4 at home, second-best in the majors behind the Los Angeles Dodgers. … Red Sox CF Jacoby Ellsbury extended his hitting streak to 14 games. … It was the one-year anniversary of Jon Lester’s no-hitter. … Toronto’s Aaron Hill, who entered the night tied for the major league lead with 61 hits, singled in the eighth and went 1 for 4. … Wakefield, with 201 strikeouts against Toronto, is the fourth pitcher to have at least 200 strikeouts against the Blue Jays, joining Roger Clemens (292), Mike Mussina (243) and Randy Johnson (200).