The Toronto Blue Jays' recent play has catapulted them back into the American League East race. The red-hot Jays can make an even bigger impact on Thursday when they play the first of four straight games against the division-leading Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.
After entering the season with enormous expectations Toronto has spent most of the season in the AL East cellar. While they sit in last place in the division the club's recent 11-game winning streak has pulled them within 6 1/2 games of the Red Sox.
Toronto, though, followed their impressive run by losing the first two games of their set with Tampa Bay before beating the Rays, 3-0, behind a spectacular two-hit shutout from R.A. Dickey.
"That's as good of a game as you can pitch, unless it's perfect," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons remarked.
The win also featured the long-awaited return to the lineup of shortstop Jose Reyes, who played in his first game since injuring his ankle back on April 12. He was 0-for-4, but the Jays received home runs from Adam Lind and Edwin Encarnacion.
"We had a nice streak, then we lost a couple in a tough place for us. (Wednesday) was big," Gibbons said Wednesday. "We needed that."
Getting the call for the Jays on Thursday will be righty Chien-Ming Wang, who is 1-0 with a 2.10 ERA. Wang did not get a decision on Saturday against Baltimore, but was terrific, as he allowed just an unearned run in 6 1/3 innings. He had pitched seven scoreless innings in his previous outing.
Wang has faced the Red Sox 15 times (14 starts) and is 6-6 with a 4.98 ERA.
Boston, meanwhile, won its second straight game on Wednesday, as Daniel Nava knocked in two runs to back a solid outing from John Lackey to help the Red Sox top the Colorado Rockies, 5-3.
Shane Victorino had three hits, scored two runs and drove in another for the Red Sox, who had lost four of five before sweeping the Rockies in the brief set. Lackey (5-5) allowed two runs on eight hits and matched a career high with 12 strikeouts while failing to walk a batter.
"I've been feeling pretty good. I feel like I'm still getting stronger," Lackey said.
Hoping for a similar effort on Thursday will be lefty Jon Lester, who won for the first time in seven starts on Friday in Detroit. Lester was not sharp, though, as he surrendered five runs in 5 2/3 innings, but still improved to 7-4 to go along with a 4.57 ERA.
Lester has just one quality start in his last seven appearances and is pitching to a lofty 7.30 ERA in that time.
"We've got to get Jon Lester back on track. There's no denying that," Boston manager John Farrell said. "He'd be the first to admit to you as well, and there are signs within each outing that that is imminent.
"I don't think (the) stretch he's on will continue. He's too talented of a pitcher. I firmly believe the group that we have here are very capable of keeping us in the position we are over the next three months."
Lester pitched a one-hit shutout to beat the Jays the last time he faced them and is 13-7 lifetime against them with a 3.61 ERA in 25 starts.
Boston is 5-4 versus the Jays this season.