Sports

Liriano, three relievers combine on six-hit shutout in Blue Jays win over Red Sox

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Roberto Osuna and catcher Russell Martin celebrate defeating the Boston Red Sox in their AL baseball game in Toronto on Wednesday, April 19, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Thornhill

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Roberto Osuna and catcher Russell Martin celebrate defeating the Boston Red Sox in their AL baseball game in Toronto on Wednesday, April 19, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Thornhill

TORONTO — Blue Jays manager John Gibbons thinks his team has what it takes to be in the playoff mix at the end of the season.

His players will need to play like they did Wednesday a little more often to make that happen.

Francisco Liriano and three relievers combined on a six-hit shutout as Toronto ended Boston's four-game winning streak with a 3-0 victory.

"We played a great ball game tonight," Gibbons said. "Really in all phases of it."

Kevin Pillar had three hits as Toronto posted its first shutout win of the season. Darwin Barney drove in a pair of runs as the Blue Jays scored three times in the second inning.

The teams will play the rubber game in the three-game set Thursday afternoon.

The Blue Jays have shown some signs that they may be ready to turn things around but there is plenty of work to be done. Toronto remains at the bottom of the Major League Baseball overall standings at 3-11.

Righting the ship will take time but Gibbons is confident his team can get back to the post-season for a third straight year.

"I think we will," he said. "I think we'll make a nice run. It's going to take a hell of an effort, that's for sure.

"But I don't see why we couldn't do it."

The bats have been mostly to blame for the early struggles.

Slugger Jose Bautista is still looking for his first home run of the season. Catcher Russell Martin and second baseman Devon Travis have averages hovering near the .100 mark.

Toronto has gone deep just 10 times this season (29th in 30-team MLB) and is also second-last with just 41 runs scored. 

The pitching has been decent and injuries haven't helped matters. Star third baseman Josh Donaldson is on the disabled list with a calf injury and starters Aaron Sanchez (finger) and J.A. Happ (elbow) are also on the DL.

Some players are pressing to make things happen at the plate. It can often prolong a slump.

"Baseball is a game where emotion can get in your way because it's such a skilled fine line," Gibbons said. "You're hitting a baseball or throwing one. It's the feel of it."

A similar stretch in the middle of the season may not get the same attention. But since Toronto has struggled out of the gate — when expectations for 2017 were high — the skid has been a real talking point.

On this night though, the Red Sox appeared handcuffed.

Liriano (1-1) allowed four hits and a walk over 5 1/3 innings for his first win of the season. Reliever Joe Biagini retired all five batters he faced before Jason Grilli and Roberto Osuna tossed an inning apiece.

Rick Porcello absorbed the loss for the Red Sox (9-6).

The Boston defence stumbled in the second inning and it proved costly.

Third baseman Pablo Sandoval was high with a throw to first, allowing Troy Tulowitzki to reach base. Martin followed with a chopper that was misplayed by first baseman Mitch Moreland.

Porcello struck out Justin Smoak but Barney followed with a single to score both runners. Ezequiel Carrera brought Barney home with a single for a third unearned run.

"You give a team extra outs, we're probably going to pay for it and we did tonight," said Boston manager John Farrell.

Liriano allowed only two Boston runners to reach base over the first four innings. Xander Bogaerts singled in the second and Hanley Ramirez reached on a Tulowitzki error in the fourth.

Liriano's earned-run average fell to 5.11 from 9.00. He had six strikeouts and threw 61 of 91 pitches for strikes.

"I didn't try to do too much," Liriano said. "I just tried to throw strikes. The defence played really well behind me. Like usual, I just trusted (catcher) Russell (Martin) and we did a good job."

Porcello (1-2), who won the American League Cy Young Award last year, allowed six hits and a walk while striking out five. He threw 76 of 110 pitches for strikes.

Grilli gave up a single and a walk before Betts grounded out to end the eighth. Osuna gave up a single to Moreland in the ninth before earning his first save.

Announced attendance was 30,842 and the game took two hours 45 minutes to play.

Notes: Betts fanned in the fourth inning for his first strikeout in 129 plate appearances. ... Right-hander Marco Estrada (0-1, 3.50 ERA) will start the series finale against Boston left-hander Chris Sale (1-1, 1.25). ... The Blue Jays' lowest win percentage for the month of April is .318 (7-15 in 1979 and 2004). ... Toronto will kick off a seven-game road swing Friday at Anaheim.

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