TORONTO - Daisuke Matsuzaka may not know this, because he only dresses as one, but the Teletubbies are known for saying "bye-bye" three times.
Last night, so did Frank Thomas of the Blue Jays.
Three home runs by the Big Hurt - two flattening Tim Wakefield knuckleballs, the other bruising Kyle Snyder's ego - and a complete game by Toronto righthander Dustin McGowan made fast work of the Red Sox, who succumbed, 6-1, in just 2 hours and 13 minutes in Rogers Centre.
Thomas's three-homer game was the first by an opposing player against the Sox since Blue Jays teammate Vernon Wells did it here on May 30, 2006, and the 15th time in the last 50 years an opposing hitter has accomplished the feat.
None of them were named Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa, Po, or whatever characters Matsuzaka and his translator, Masa Hoshino, were required to dress as during the team's annual rookie hazing ritual Sunday night.
With 11 games to play, the magic number remains nine, as the Yankees beat the Orioles, 8-5, in the Bronx. The lead over the Bombers in the American League East is down to 3 1/2 games. The last time the race was that close was May 1, when the Sox held a 3 1/2-game advantage over the Blue Jays.
While Thomas was enjoying the second three-homer game of his career - the other coming at the expense of Wakefield on Sept. 15, 1996 in Fenway Park - manager Terry Francona ran out a lineup that was missing Manny Ramírez (19 games) and Kevin Youkilis, had David Ortiz treading carefully on a balky knee, and had to subtract Coco Crisp when his back became cranky.
"We're going to have to fight through it," said Francona, who announced after the game that rookie phenom Clay Buchholz will draw the start here tomorrow night against the Blue Jays, his first since throwing a no-hitter against Baltimore on Sept. 1 in his second big-league start.
"David didn't feel great, Coco's back acted up a little bit, but we'll just have to take stock of how guys feel tomorrow. David's knee, we'll have to see how he feels. Hopefully, he'll make it to the day off [Thursday]. We'd like to get to the day off, but if we can't, we won't."
Ortiz was active on the bases over the weekend against the Yankees - he was thrown out at the plate in the third inning Friday - and had gone back to taking anti-inflammatories. Since reaching base five times Saturday, Ortiz is 0 for his last 7 (with two walks), striking out four times, including three times last night.
Ortiz wasn't the only player shut down by McGowan, a 25-year-old former No. 1 sandwich pick (2000) who has overcome both Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery and Type 1 diabetes to emerge as one of the league's top righthanded starters. McGowan pitched eight innings of no-hit ball against the Rockies on June 24, struck out a career-high 12 batters 10 days ago against the Devil Rays, and last night held the Sox to just five hits in pitching the second complete game of his career.
"Dustin was tremendous today," said Thomas, employing an adjective he rightfully could have applied to himself after tying Hall of Famers Eddie Mathews and Ernie Banks on the all-time homer list at 512. "When he's prepared mentally, he's as good as any starter in baseball. I know that's a bold, bold statement, but it is true.
"His stuff can totally dominate a team. When he's on, he's on. I don't care how good the hitters are. When he's on, he's something to deal with."
McGowan set down the first nine batters before Jacoby Ellsbury singled to open the fourth. Ellsbury took second on an infield out, and after Ortiz flied out, Mike Lowell doubled him home. Lowell would be the last Sox batter to reach until Alex Cora doubled with two out in the eighth, McGowan retiring a dozen in row in the interim, helped by an over-the-shoulder catch from center fielder Wells that took extra bases away from Eric Hinske to start the eighth.
Ellsbury blooped another single to start the ninth but was thrown out attempting to advance, an unwise gamble given the score.
The next hitter, Dustin Pedroia, followed with a single, but McGowan struck out Ortiz and retired Lowell on a roller to second to close out the Sox.
"Fastball in the upper 90s with movement, with a slider that makes it even more difficult," Francona said. "It's got some depth to it, a power slider. Obviously we had a lot of trouble with it."
Wakefield, coming off back-to-back starts in which he was unable to pitch past the fourth inning (13 ER, 6 2/3 IP), encountered few problems outside of Thomas in going six innings, his best outing since having to miss a start with a bad back.
But it took just one Big Hurt to ruin a night. Thomas hit a two-run homer in the first, with Wells on third after a walk, stolen base, and infield out. The Jays added a run in the fifth on a walk, infield roller and force play before Thomas made it 4-1 with his 24th home run in the sixth, a liner off the foul pole in left.
The Blue Jays made it academic in the eighth when Cora appeared to catch a seam and fell face-first while attempting to throw across the diamond, Alex Rios reaching on the error, before Thomas lost another ball in the seats.
"Yeah, 1996, I remember it like it was yesterday," Wakefield said when asked whether he recalled Thomas taking him deep three times. "There's a reason why he's got 500. You make a mistake, it leaves the yard pretty quick.
"I was not happy with the line, but I was happy with the way I felt. I was able to get through six innings tonight, and probably could have gone another one."
Thomas has hardly made a career out of wearing out Wakefield. He came into the game batting just .222 (10 for 45) against the knuckleballer, with only one other home run beyond the '96 event. Someone mentioned to Wakefield that Thomas has had only two big nights against him.
"Yeah, but tonight was one of 'em, unfortunately," Wakefield said. "And we ran into a guy who had his A-plus game tonight."