Red Sox-Blue Jays Preview

From an under-.500 disappointment before the All-Star break to baseball's best team in the second half, the Toronto Blue Jays can essentially put the AL East on ice with an upcoming visit from their closest competition.

Just don't expect them to overlook their final game against the division's cellar dweller.

After blowing a ninth-inning lead for the first time all season, the Blue Jays try to bounce back Sunday and avoid losing their season series against the visiting Boston Red Sox.

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The New York Yankees will be at Rogers Centre for three games starting Monday, and it's possible by the time they leave that the Blue Jays (85-63) could have a 7 1/2-game lead with 10 to play.

For now, Toronto needs to stay focused on the Red Sox (70-77), who on Saturday did something firmly against the odds with the Blue Jays up 4-2 in the ninth. Boston had been 0-65 when trailing after eight innings and Toronto had won its first 73 when exiting the eighth with a lead, but the Red Sox scored five times in the ninth and needed them all while holding on for a 7-6 win.

Jackie Bradley Jr.'s two-run shot tied it and was the third homer Jays closer Roberto Osuna has allowed this month, equaling the number he gave up prior to September.

"The kid's had a great year and he's good," manager John Gibbons said. "That's part of baseball."

The Jays' lead dropped to 3 1/2 after the Yankees won, and they might not have an easy time maintaining that edge prior to New York's arrival. Toronto is 9-9 against the last-place Red Sox and has dropped six of the last nine meetings.

Mark Buehrle (14-7, 3.66 ERA) started two of those and had vastly different experiences. He held Boston to a run and four hits over seven innings while striking out seven in an 11-2 home win July 1, then surrendered five runs over a season-low 3 1-3 in an 11-4 loss at Fenway Park on Sept. 7 without a whiff.

That rough outing wasn't a complete aberration for Buehrle of late. After completing seven innings in 14 of 16 starts from May 17-Aug. 13, the left-hander hasn't recorded an out past the sixth while posting a 5.92 ERA over his last five.

Buehrle got a cortisone shot in his left shoulder after his outing at Fenway and went eight days between starts, allowing two runs over five innings Tuesday at Atlanta while throwing 66 pitches.

"It had been a long layoff for him, but I thought it was good that he got through five, and the last three innings were much better," Gibbons told MLB's official website.

"Ideally you'd like to see them all go six or seven innings, but that doesn't happen all the time."

It happened for Rich Hill (0-0, 0.00) last Sunday in his first start in the majors since 2009. The 35-year-old left-hander, a bullpen arm with three different teams over the last few years who began this season with independent league Long Island, allowed only an infield hit over seven innings at Tampa Bay while striking out 10 in a 2-0 win.

"The outing speaks for itself," interim manager Torey Lovullo said. "It was a pretty special moment for Rich to walk on the mound. Just a great story."

It's been four years since he's faced Jose Bautista, but Hill used to have his way with him. The Jays slugger, who hit his 36th homer in the ninth inning Saturday, is 3 for 21 off Hill.

Boston outfielder Mookie Betts has hit safely in all 16 games he's played against Toronto this season, posting a 1.112 OPS.