TORONTO - There's something about facing the Boston Red Sox of late that brings out the best in Ricky Romero.
The Toronto left-hander allowed just one run and three hits over a dominant 8 1-3 innings to lead the Blue Jays to a 3-1 win Wednesday afternoon at Rogers Centre. Romero won his third straight start against Boston dating back to last season and the 8 1-3 innings was his longest outing in 14 career starts against the Red Sox.
"I had a good feel for my sinker, I didn't beat the ball into the ground a lot and when you're able to do that you can't get away from it until they make that adjustment," Romero said. "And when they did make that adjustment I had a good curveball going.
"These guys are so tough to pitch to sometimes and you have to keep them off-balance and make good pitches.''
Toronto (4-2) won the rubber match of the series behind the performance of its ace, who at one point retired 17 straight Boston hitters in a superbly pitched game that required just two hours 13 minutes to complete.
After allowing a run and three hits in the third inning, Romero, who led Toronto last season in starts (32), wins (15), innings pitched (225) and earned-run average (2.92), really settled into a groove before opening the ninth with consecutive walks to Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia. They moved to third and second, respectively, on Adrian Gonzalez's sacrifice fly, which spelled the end to Romero's day.
Closer Sergio Santos, who blew two save chances earlier this season, fanned Kevin Youkilis and got David Ortiz to hit into a game-ending groundout to cement the victory.
"Ricky was the story here today," said Toronto manager John Farrell. "I know how much he wanted to finish this game but he more than did his job and Santos came in and somewhat redeemed himself from his first couple of outings and did what we really anticipated when we acquired him (in off-season from Chicago White Sox)."
Santos, who was roundly booed off the field after blowing the save opportunity in the series opener Monday night, was glad to have redeemed himself.
"There was quite a bit on my mind just because of everything that's happened," Santos said. "It was nice to block all that out, get out there and throw some effective pitches.
"Look, I would've booed myself too (Monday night) because it was such a terrible job so it's nice to finally have my first good outing before these fans. I know they're passionate about their sports and that's all you can ask for."
Romero (1-0) outduelled Boston left-hander Jon Lester before 25,285 spectators — many of them school kids — at Rogers Centre. It was the lowest attendance of the series after more than 48,000 took in the Red Sox's 4-2 win Monday before 26,251 witnessed Toronto's 7-3 victory Tuesday night.
Romero easily surpassed his performance in Toronto's season opener in Cleveland last Thursday when he allowed three hits (including a homer) and four earned runs over five innings. But J.P. Arencibia's three-run homer in the 16th inning paced the Blue Jays to a 7-4 victory over the Indians.
"I felt way better than I did opening day," Romero said. "Any time you go deep in the game that's what it is all about.
"I think at times against Boston I tried to do too much and walks killed me against them. I looked at video of my last two starts against them last year and it was just strike one, pound the zone and I had a good rhythm going against them."
A fact not lost upon Youkilis.
"Usually he gets a little wild and doesn't command the ball and today he did," Youkilis said of Romero. "He was going in and out and up and down.
"That’s why he was so effective, he tried to throw more strikes and not get behind the hitters."
Lester (0-1) was certainly a hard-luck loser, allowing three runs and three hits in going the distance for Boston (1-5). He set down 15 straight Toronto hitters before surrendering a two-out walk to Rajai Davis in the eighth. Yunel Escobar gave Toronto its 3-1 lead with a run-scoring single that brought home Davis after he stole second on a failed pickoff attempt.
"A couple of balls that I left up they hit and scored some runs," Lester said. "You can't do things like that against Romero and (Detroit ace Justin) Verlander it makes it too hard on our offence to give them the lead and have our guys try and fight from behind."
Boston finds itself in a familiar position when it opened last season losing 10 of its first 12 games.
"We're not playing good right now," Lester said. "The games we pitch well we don't hit, the games we don't pitch well hit we hit.
"Nobody in that clubhouse wants to start slow regardless of years past. We said last year, it sucks to hear, but it's a long season."
Romero came in with a career 4-6 record against Boston and a bloated 7.12 ERA. Last year he was 2-2 in four starts against the Red Sox with a 6.56 ERA, giving up 28 hits, 17 earned runs, four homers and 12 walks in 23 1-3 innings while striking out 17.
Lester, on the other hand, was 10-4 against Toronto lifetime with a 3.06 ERA. Last season, he posted a 3-0 record versus the Jays with a 2.08 ERA and pitched seven scoreless innings and struck out a season-high 11 in his last start against the club, a 14-0 win Sept. 6.
Boston opened the scoring in the third after Romero retired the first six batters he faced. Ellsbury's run-scoring single scored Mike Aviles, who singled and went to second on Kelly Shoppach's fielder's choice. That still left two runners on base for Romero, who got out of the jam by striking out Pedroia and getting Gonzalez to ground out.
Toronto went ahead 2-1 in the bottom of the third on Yunel Escobar's sacrifice fly, which scored Davis. Davis drove in the Jays' opening run with a triple that scored Eric Thames, who had singled and went to second on a wild pitch. Kelly Johnson walked and reached second on a passed ball but was stranded there on Jose Bautista's inning-ending groundout.
Bautista, who led the majors with 43 homers last season, was hitless in three plate appearances and a dismal 0-for-11 in the series overall.
Notes: Both teams have Thursday off before starting new series. Toronto will open a three-game set against Baltimore on Friday while Boston holds its home opener against Tampa Bay. The Rays will then be at Rogers Centre to face the Blue Jays starting Tuesday night. ... The groundscrew at Rogers Centre jumped the gun in the fifth inning, coming out to clean the field before Davis was out. ... Johnson went hitless after having registered hits in Toronto's five previous games. Ryan Sweeney had done the same for Boston before also going hitless Wednesday. ... Toronto's bullpen has been busy this season, having worked a major league-high 24 2-3 innings prior to Wednesday's game. The unit's 2.55 ERA ranked fourth in the American League.