Chris Sale almost single handedly dampened the mood at Rogers Centre. After a lengthy pre-game ceremony celebrating Canada's 150th anniversary had the 46,672 fans at Rogers Centre energized, the Red Sox starter struck out 11 over seven scoreless innings to lift Boston over the Blue Jays 7-1 on Saturday to quiet the crowd along with Toronto's bats.
That deflated feeling spread to the Blue Jays clubhouse after the game. The room that had been filled with laughter and loud rap music before the afternoon matinee was subdued after Sale's performance, with the TVs turned off, no music and most of the players from Toronto's starting lineup nowhere to be seen.
"It's not fun," said third baseman Darwin Barney. "When he can add and subtract to all of his pitches and he definitely likes to attack hitters. That's where the frustration comes from: you want to attack him early but you know that if you keep his pitch count down he can go 10 innings.
"You've got to be selective but in the end sometimes that first pitch is the best one you see."
Sale (11-3) gave up four hits, one walk and hit two batters as Boston (46-35) won its third straight game. Blaine Boyer and Robby Scott came out of the bullpen for the Red Sox.
Blue Jays starter Francisco Liriano (4-4) worked six innings, allowing five runs on seven hits with three walks while striking out four. He was relieved by triple-A callup Lucas Harrell and Jeff Beliveau.
Steve Pearce's solo home run in the ninth was the only offence the Blue Jays (37-43) could muster as Toronto lost its third straight and seventh of its last 10. An 11-15 record in June and the loss to start July has the Blue Jays drifting away from a wild-card spot.
"Guys still believe in the club and who we have here," said Barney. "Nobody's thinking that things aren't going to work out for us. I feel like at this point that, obviously, the clock is ticking on the season but we feel like the men in here have the ability to make a run."
The Blue Jays honoured Canada's 150th anniversary with an extensive pre-game ceremony. A banner with "CANADA" in the team's distinctive font hung from the wall in centre field, while a Canada 150 tarp covered home plate.
The 48th Highlanders Pipe and Drum Band marched to the pitcher's mound before members and veterans of Canada's Armed Forces threw out the opening pitch. The 48th Highlanders' colour guard then paraded to second base with the Canadian and American flags.
Members of Canada's Armed Forces carried out a large Canadian flag that covered the entire outfield as the pipes and drums played "The Maple Leaf Forever." The crowd, decked out in red and white, then sang "O Canada."
Barney noted that last season the Blue Jays looked to be in a dire spot after a 2-1 19-inning loss to Cleveland on Canada Day but they turned their season around for a run to the American League Championship Series.
"I think we won 11 in a row after that," said Barney, who pitched as a reliever in that marathon game. "Anything can happen. We win 11 in a row we're right back in the hunt and we're not even that far out of the wild card if you look at the numbers."
Jackie Bradley Jr. put the Red Sox on the board in the first inning, hitting a double to score two runs. In the second, Dustin Pedroia drove in two more with a double for a 4-0 lead.
Sale, meanwhile, was in dominating form. After hitting Pearce in the second, Sale struck out three consecutive batters to get out of the inning.
"He's been unbelievable to play behind and just to get to know him as a guy," said Pedroia of Sale. "He's been great, man. His attitude, the way he prepares. We're pretty excited to have him."
Betts scored a third time on Xander Bogaerts's sacrifice fly in the fifth inning.
The Blue Jays came closest to cracking Sale in the sixth inning when he hit Russell Martin with a pitch and Justin Smoak added a one-out double. But Sale easily fielded Troy Tulowitzki's grounder then induced a pop fly from Pearce to end the threat.
Harrell loaded the bases in the ninth before Bogaerts hit a single to shallow left field to score two more runners and make it 7-0.
Pearce's solo shot was his sixth homer of the season.