BOSTON -- Jonathan Papelbon's save looked like it was slipping away in the top of the ninth inning on Tuesday night at Fenway. John McDonald had blooped a single into left and Edwin Encarnacion came racing around second, looking poised to score the tying run.
It was an occasion that called for a perfect throw from left fielder Darnell McDonald, a textbook block by catcher Jason Varitek, and just maybe, a little help from home-plate umpire Brian Knight.
All those things came together for the Red Sox, who hung on -- just barely -- for a 3-2 victory over the Blue Jays.
"I think 'Tek deserves a save," said manager Terry Francona. "He's as good as anybody in the game [at blocking the plate]. I know there were some people squawking a couple months ago, but that's a good baseball play. He stuck that stump in there and didn't let him get to the plate. Mac made a great throw. It's certainly not the way we drew it up, but that's a heck of a way to win the game."
Jays manager John Farrell knows as well as anyone how adept Varitek is at blocking the plate, from his four seasons as Boston's pitching coach. But on this night, he thought his team got a raw deal.
"We should still be playing right now," Farrell said. "That play is right in front of Brian Knight. It was clear that Edwin did a good job sliding around the plant leg of 'Tek, but his swipe tag missed him by no less than a foot. So right now, we should be out on that field playing."
With the Red Sox losing Jon Lester with a strained lower latissimus muscle (which is near the left shoulder) after four no-hit innings, they were just glad to find a way to win.
McDonald has had a glaringly tough season at the plate, hitting .125 in 64 at-bats. He was happy to be able to help save a game with his arm.
The throw was a bullet, landing in Varitek's mitt without a hop. Varitek stuck his left leg out, making home plate a near impossible destination for Encarnacion.
"I was just trying to get the ball in, obviously as quick as I could," McDonald said. "Great tag by the captain, blocking the plate there. It's a do or die play. I'm just coming up, trying to get the ball in as soon as possible."
Varitek was there, waiting.
"It's the end of the game, I'm just trying to stay in there," said Varitek. "Darnell made a very good throw -- a perfect throw. It saved us the game."
In the boxscore, that save did end up going to Papelbon, his 18th in 19 tries this season.
The big righty came on with a 3-0 lead, only to give up a leadoff single to Corey Patterson and a two-run Fenway shot to Jose Bautista, the 28th of the season for the slugger.
"I actually felt the one pitch I made to Bautista was one of the better pitches that I made tonight," Papelbon said. "There's 29 ballparks that that ball is [an out]. Can't do nothing about it."
All's well that ends well, right?
There is always a little uneasiness when the ace leaves in mid-start, not to mention with a no-hitter in progress. Lester will be examined on Wednesday, at which point there will be more information on when he might return.
But the bullpen came up big in this one. Matt Albers fired two innings for the win, while Franklin Morales and Daniel Bard each fired a scoreless frame.
"We heard the phone ring right after the top of the fourth and kind of had a feeling that it probably wasn't good," said Albers. "They said, 'You're in the game.' Right then I was able to get on the mound and get loose before the inning started. Obviously we have a feeling when they're going to go to the 'pen, because of pitch counts and all that kind of stuff, so it was a little bit of a surprise, but other than that, it wasn't too much different."
For the time Lester was out there, he was in top form. The only baserunner he allowed was a walk to J.P. Arencibia. Lester struck out five and threw 50 pitches, 35 for strikes.
"I thought I threw the ball pretty well," said Lester. "It's probably the best fastball location and just pure-stuff fastball I've had in a while. It's a shame I had to waste it tonight. But you can't speak highly enough for our bullpen. They picked me up tonight. They picked the team up -- especially after a rough one yesterday, I needed to pick some innings up. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to do that. Albie, Morales, Bardo, Pap, tip your hat to those guys. They did a great job.
It wasn't a particularly loud night for Boston offensively.
David Ortiz ignited a Boston rally in the second, leading off with a double into the corner in right. With one out, Varitek lofted a double off the Monster, bringing in Big Papi to make it 1-0. J.D. Drew then stung one onto the grass in short right that went off the foot of second baseman Mike McCoy for an RBI single.
Dustin Pedroia, again in his element hitting cleanup, boosted Boston's lead to 3-0 with a towering shot over the Monster with two outs in the third. Subbing for Kevin Youkilis, it was Pedroia's fourth homer in 26 at-bats when he bats fourth.
Bautista's single to left with two outs in the sixth was the first hit of the game for Toronto.
By the time the Jays got the last of their six hits -- with two outs in the top of the ninth -- McDonald and Varitek made sure it wasn't enough.
"I want to do things to help the team," McDonald said. "Obviously I haven't been effective at the plate. It's a long season. Like I said, I want to do anything I can to help this team. When you're not hitting, your defense has to be on point."