By JIMMY GOLEN
AP Sports Writer
BOSTON — The Boston Red Sox waited four years to get back to baseball’s postseason. They were more than happy to put off their playoff celebration one more day.
One game after securing their first playoff appearance since 2009, the Red Sox clinched the AL East title on Friday night, getting seven strong innings from Jon Lester to beat the Toronto Blue Jays 6-3.
The victory gave Boston 94 wins, 11 more than the Tampa Bay Rays with only 10 games remaining.
“We’re going back to the playoffs,” said designated hitter David Ortiz, who joined his teammates in revelry on the mound already wearing a ski mask to protect his eyes from the postgame spray of champagne and beer. “People have got to believe we’ve got a good team. We’re going to take this all the way there.”
The Red Sox did little to celebrate after assuring themselves of no worse than a wild-card spot on Thursday. Instead, the team brought out the cigars on Friday after earning their first division title since 2007 — a victory that allows them to skip the one-game wild-card playoff and instead rest for four days after the regular season ends.
“Winning the American League East is something everybody in here should be proud of,” said manager John Farrell, who was brought in to replace Bobby Valentine after last year’s team won 69 games. “When we got in the playoffs last night — to see there was no response, there was no celebration. That to me spoke as much volume as anything we’ve done in the year. It’s a focused group. It’s their time tonight to go and enjoy it.”
Lester (15-8) earned his 100th career victory, allowing one run on five hits and two walks while striking out eight to win for the seventh time in nine decisions. Toronto pinch-hitter Adam Lind hit a two-run homer off Junichi Tazawa in the eighth to make it 5-3 before Koji Uehara got five outs for his 20th save.
With the crowd standing for most of the final inning, Uehara struck out Brett Lawrie to end the game and the Red Sox poured out of the dugout and bullpen. On their way to the mound they were given the traditional commemorative caps, along with T-shirts that said, “We Own The East.”
It was a stunning turnaround that came just one year after the Red Sox completed a 13-month collapse that started in September of 2011, when they blew a nine-game lead in the wild card and missed the playoffs with a loss on the final day of the season.
“They believed it from the first day of spring training,” owner John Henry said. “But they went out and did it.”
Dustin Pedroia had three hits for the Red Sox, who have won 19 of their last 25.
Toronto starter Esmil Rogers (5-8) did not make it out of the third inning, allowing two runs on three hits and five walks and striking out two while getting only seven outs. With the fourth-place New York Yankees winning their 81st game earlier Friday, the Blue Jays will be the only team in the AL East with a losing record.
“They’ve got a great team over there. They really do,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said. “They ran away with a good division. It’s not even close right now.”
The Red Sox took the lead early when Pedroia doubled to lead off the first inning, went to third on a fly ball and scored on a wild pitch. Boston had runners on first and second with nobody out but Mike Carp lined out to the shortstop and Ortiz was thrown out at the plate when he tried to score from second on Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s single.
Daniel Nava doubled to lead off the third inning and, after intentionally walking Ortiz, Rogers walked two more to make it 2-0. Chad Jenkins came in and got Saltalamacchia to hit into an inning-ending double play.
Toronto loaded the bases with nobody out in the fourth on a walk, an error by third baseman Will Middlebrooks and a single. But Middlebrooks fielded Anthony Gose’s chopper, stepped on third and threw home to get Kevin Pillar in a rundown for a double play. Lester struck out J.P. Arencibia to end the inning.
Rajai Davis singled, stole second and third and scored on Lawrie’s single to make it 2-1 in the fifth. But Neil Wagner gave up four straight singles to start the seventh, including an RBI single by Ortiz to make it 3-1.
Jeremy Jeffress came in and got Mike Napoli to ground into a shortstop-to-home-to-first double play. But Carp hit a line drive to left-center that made it 5-1. After Lind made it 5-3, Pedroia added an RBI single in the eighth.
TIGERS 12, WHITE SOX 5
DETROIT — Max Scherzer became baseball’s first 20-game winner, pitching through a rainy six innings to help Detroit defeat Chicago.
Scherzer (20-3) was making his fifth attempt to win No. 20. He had two losses and two no-decisions in his previous four starts. Torii Hunter had four hits for Detroit, and Victor Martinez homered.
Dylan Axelrod (4-10) allowed seven runs in 2 2-3 innings.
The AL Central-leading Tigers lowered their magic number to eliminate second-place Cleveland to three.
INDIANS 2, ASTROS 1
(6 1/2 INNINGS)
CLEVELAND — Zach McAllister lasted five innings and the Cleveland Indians got two gift runs from Houston in a 2-1, rain-shortened victory over the Astros on Friday night to remain near the top of the AL wild-card standings.
The game was delayed for 1 hour, 9 minutes before the umpires decided to call it after 6 1-2 innings.
The Indians, who entered the night trailing both Tampa Bay and Texas by one-half game for a wild-card spot, scored an unearned run in the second and fourth innings off Brett Oberholtzer (4-4).
McAllister (9-9) allowed just one run and got a key double play in the fifth. Bryan Shaw went 1 1-3 innings for his first save.
ROYALS 2, RANGERS 1
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Neftali Feliz walked Alcides Escobar on four pitches with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth inning, giving Kansas City a victory over Texas in the opener of an important three-game series between teams in the playoff race.
Texas dropped a half-game behind the Indians for the second AL wild-card spot with the loss. Cleveland beat the Houston Astros 2-1 in rain-shortened game. The Royals were three games behind Tampa Bay. The leading Rays played Baltimore.
The Rangers and Royals scored matching runs in the second inning before two stingy pitching staffs started throwing up zeros.
The Royals finally broke through when Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas hit consecutive two-out singles off the Rangers’ Jason Frasor (4-3) in the eighth. Pinch-hitter David Lough drew a walk on a full-count pitch to load the bases, and Rangers manager Ron Washington brought in Feliz.
YANKEES 5, GIANTS 1
NEW YORK — Alex Rodriguez set a major league record with his 24th career grand slam, passing Lou Gehrig with a tiebreaking shot in the seventh inning that sent New York Yankees to victory over San Francisco.
Rodriguez’s slam helped CC Sabathia (14-13) beat Tim Lincecum in a matchup of former Cy Young Award-winners having subpar seasons.
More importantly for the Yankees, it led them to their second win in seven games as they cling to faint playoff hopes. New York began the day 3½ games behind Tampa Bay and Texas for the second AL wild card, with three other teams in between.
Alfonso Soriano also homered and New York opened its final homestand of the season with a much-needed victory, hours after pitcher Andy Pettitte announced his plans to retire — again — following this season.
BRAVES 9, CUBS 5
CHICAGO — Chris Johnson went 3 for 4 with a home run, and Atlanta beat Chicago 9-5 to reduce its magic number to clinch the NL East to one.
The Braves broke open a tie game in the top of the ninth with four runs — all with two outs. Brian McCann and Johnson had RBI singles, and Andrelton Simmons followed with a two-run double.
Freddie Freeman earlier hit a three-run homer for Atlanta.
David Carpenter (4-1) pitched a scoreless eighth to get the win. Kevin Gregg (2-5) took the loss for the Cubs, who wasted three home runs.
Atlanta starter Paul Maholm, twice staked to a four-run lead, allowed eight hits and four runs in 5 1-3 innings. Chicago’s Scott Baker allowed five runs and four hits in four innings.
BREWERS 6 (10)
MILWAUKEE — Carlos Beltran’s 10th-inning sacrifice fly kept St. Louis in sole possession of first place in the NL Central.
The Cardinals hold a two-game lead over Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. The Reds downed the Pirates 6-5 in 10 innings to move into a tie for second place.
Former Brewers closer John Axford (7-7 ) picked up the win, while Carlos Martinez got his first save of the year for the Cardinals.
Beltran’s fly ball to deep right field off Michael Blazek (0-1) scored Kolten Wong, who led off the 10th with a walk.
Matt Adams smacked a towering two-run homer in the ninth to give the Cardinals a 6-4 lead, but the Brewers rallied for two runs in the bottom of the inning to tie the game.
Aramis Ramirez hit a three-run home run for the Brewers while Norichika Aoki had four hits, a walk and three runs.
REDS 6, PIRATES 5 (10)
PITTSBURGH — Joey Votto homered off Kyle Farnsworth in the 10th inning for Cincinnati, which got three unearned runs in the ninth to tie the game and pulled even with Pittsburgh for the top wild-card spot in the National League.
Cincinnati pushed across the three runs off closer Mark Melancon to tie it and Votto won it an inning later with his 24th homer.
JJ Hoover (5-5) earned the win for the Reds, who have won four straight. Aroldis Chapman worked the 10th for his 38th save.
Farnsworth (1-1) retired Brandon Phillips to start the 10th but left fielder Starling Marte couldn’t quite grab Votto’s shot down the line.
Francisco Liriano overwhelmed the Reds, allowing two runs and three hits, walking three and striking out seven. The left-hander needed only 94 pitches to record 24 outs, but was pulled in the ninth for Melancon, who has been outstanding most of the season but was coming off a blown save in a 3-2 loss to San Diego on Wednesday.
NATIONALS 8, MARLINS 0
WASHINGTON — Jordan Zimmermann pitched a two-hitter and picked up his NL-leading 19th win for barely-still-alive Washington.
Zimmermann (19-8) took a no-hitter into the sixth inning, struck out nine and faced only three batters above the minimum. He passed the 200-inning mark for the season and lowered his ERA to 3.18 for the Nationals, who have essentially hit must-win mode in their late push for the playoffs.
The Nationals trail Cincinnati and Pittsburgh by five games with nine to play for the NL’s second wild card berth.
Zimmermann had a one-hitter this season, on April 26 in a 1-0 win over the Reds.
After hovering near .500 for most of the season, the defending NL East champs have won 12 of 14 and 29 of 40.
The Nationals sent 11 batters to the plate in a seven-run sixth against Marlins starter Jacob Turner (3-8) and reliever Chris Hatcher.
METS 6, PHILLIES 4
PHILADELPHIA — David Wright homered in his return to New York’s lineup, Daniel Murphy had three hits and Daisuke Matsuzaka earned his second straight victory.
Eric Young Jr. singled, doubled and drove in a run for the Mets, who have won four of seven.
Darin Ruf doubled and drove in two runs for Philadelphia, which has lost four of seven.
LaTroy Hawkins pitched a scoreless ninth for his 11th save in 14 opportunities.
The Mets jumped on Cole Hamels (8-14) for three runs in the first.
The homer moved Wright past Mike Piazza into second on the club’s career list with 221 homers. Darryl Strawberry is No. 1 with 252.
Matsuzaka (2-3) pitched six innings, allowing four runs and four hits with six strikeouts and three walks.
Hamels, who lost for the first time since July 26, left after seven subpar innings, giving up six runs and 10 hits with eight strikeouts and no walks.
ROCKIES 9, D-BACKS 4
DENVER — Colorado’s Jhoulys Chacin tossed six shaky innings and helped himself with his first career home run.
Troy Tulowitzki, Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson also went deep for the Rockies.
Paul Goldschmidt hit his NL-leading 35th homer and drove in two runs and A.J. Pollock homered for Arizona.
The Diamondbacks were playing a day after the Los Angeles Dodgers clinched the NL West in Phoenix.
Blackmon greeted reliever Tony Sipp (3-2) with his fifth home run to lead off the sixth. Josh Rutledge singled and Dickerson hit his fourth homer to make it 5-2.
Goldschmidt homered off Mitchell Boggs in the seventh to make it 6-3.
Chacin (14-9) worked out of trouble all game in part because of five walks. He only allowed two runs and was able to pitch his way out of jams to earn his first win in three weeks.