BOSTON — The Boston Red Sox completed their amazing turnaround from worst to first.
Jon Lester threw seven strong innings for his 100th career victory and Mike Carp had a key two-run single as the Red Sox clinched just their second AL East title since 1995 with a 6-3 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday night.
Boston’s last AL East crown came in 2007, when it went on to win the World Series.
One year ago, the Red Sox were at the tail end of a dismal 69-win season, the franchise’s worst since 1966 (72-90).
The Red Sox added some new-look, new-attitude “clubhouse guys” and proved that winning without the big names of the past — Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett — could be done again quickly.
They traded away the trio late last August to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a salary-dump deal and sent out some of the bad vibes that surrounded this team from the September 2011 collapse through last season.
Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Carp and the rest of this group grabbed first place on August 25 and sprinted to the finish.
And they capped it with their 15th win in 20 games.
This season has marked the largest turnaround in the club’s history.
Lester (15-8) gave up one run on five hits, striking out eight without walking a batter.
Toronto starter Esmil Rogers (5-8) didn’t make it out of the third and took the loss.
With Boston leading 2-1 in the seventh, David Ortiz hit a bases-loaded, broken bat RBI single, Carp had his two-run single, and Koji Uehara did the rest with a five-out save for his 20th of the season.
It ended on Brett Lawrie’s strikeout, with the crowd chanting “Let’s Go Red Sox!” The players then mobbed Uehara on the mound.
Adam Lind’s pinch-hit, two-run homer off Boston’s Junichi Tazawa in the eighth closed the Red Sox lead to 5-3 and made it tight to the end.
The Red Sox took control early. Carp’s bases-loaded walk gave Boston a 2-0 lead in the third.
The Rays cut it 2-1 in the fifth. Rajai Davis had a two-out single, stole consecutive bases (43rd and 44th) and scored on Lawrie’s single just over Dustin Pedroia’s leap.
Boston’s Will Middlebrooks made up for his error in the fourth, turning a double play with the bases loaded and no outs by stepping on the bag on Anthony Gose’s hard grounder down the line before firing home. Lester then fanned J.P. Arencibia to end the threat.
It was a wild night for Rogers in his shortest outing of the season. He gave up two runs on three hits, but walked five — one intentionally — uncorked a wild pitch for Boston’s first run and threw just 29 of his 60 pitches for strikes in 2 1/3 innings. Chad Jenkins relieved with the bases loaded and one out, getting Jarrod Saltalamacchia to bounce into a double play.
Boston grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first when Pedroia doubled off the Green Monster, advanced on a deep fly to right and scored on a wild pitch. Boston did have a runner cut down at the plate when center fielder Gose nailed Ortiz by a wide margin.
Lester worked out of a first and third, two-out situation in the second when he fanned Arencibia swinging on a 95 mph fastball.
NOTES: Blue Jays CF Colby Rasmus had to leave the game before the bottom of the first when he was hit in the head near the left eye by a ball thrown from the bullpen area while Toronto was warming up in the field. … Boston OF Shane Victorino missed his second straight game with a jammed right thumb that forced him out of Wednesday’s game early. … The Red Sox opened their final home regular-season series Friday night. They have two more against the Blue Jays before heading to Colorado for two games (Tuesday and Wednesday) and a three-game series against the Baltimore Orioles, starting next weekend. … Boston RHP Ryan Dempster (8-9, 4.64 ERA) was moved to the bullpen in preparation for Boston cutting down to four starters for the postseason. He hasn’t worked out of the pen since 2007. … Red Sox CF Jacoby Ellsbury, sidelined the last 13 games with a small broken bone in his right foot, started baseball workouts on Friday…. Clay Buchholz (11-0, 1.51 ERA) goes for Boston against Mark Buehrle (11-9, 4.17) on Saturday.