TORONTO -- One of the knocks against Toronto's Carlos Villanueva is that he has yet to show an ability to pitch deep into games.
The veteran right-hander showed Saturday that he can do just that in what may have been an audition for a spot in the 2013 rotation. Villanueva provided another quality start and pitched into the eighth inning for the first time this season in a 3-2 loss to the Boston Red Sox.
"He's been very consistent," said Blue Jays manager John Farrell. "On the days he starts for us, he's dependable. We know what we're going to get from Carlos and that's typically four pitches for strikes and keeping the game in control and he did it again today."
It was just the second time in 14 starts that Villanueva made it past the sixth inning. A reliever for most of his seven-year career, he has been one of the team's most consistent starters since joining the rotation on June 29.
Villanueva said he has a very good relationship with Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos. However, the 28-year-old right-hander will be a free agent after this season and it's unclear whether he will fit into the team's plans for 2013.
"Like I've said before if I am auditioning, I really don't care because I think in my mind I've proven what I can do," he said. "I'm sure somebody else out there will take a chance on me. For me, I've pitched like this my whole career, ever since I was in rookie ball.
"I've always had to prove myself."
Pedro Ciriaco lashed a double to left field off reliever Steve Delabar (4-2) to drive in Jarrod Saltalamacchia with the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth inning. Craig Breslow (1-0) worked one inning of relief for the win and Andrew Bailey pitched the ninth for his fourth save.
It was the second straight game that Boston (66-80) used a ninth-inning rally to beat Toronto (65-79). The Red Sox scored three runs in the ninth on Friday night for an 8-5 win in the opener of the three-game series.
"It's a good sign we're not laying down and dying," Saltalamacchia said. "Not that we did at the beginning of the year, but we're continuing to fight even though we're as far out as we are.
"It shows a lot about this team. It's a good sign."
Boston starter Clay Buchholz also turned in a solid effort but didn't factor in the decision. He allowed four hits and one earned run.
Villanueva, who is 7-5, allowed four hits and two earned runs while striking out six batters. He issued two walks and his earned-run average dropped to 3.42.
It was his sixth quality start in his last eight games.
Villanueva has been a steady presence in a Toronto rotation that has been decimated by injuries this season. He said he learned early in his career that he has to prove himself all the time and this season is no different.
"It's probably been part of the motivation every year," he said. "You just have some years -- I happen to be a free agent and obviously I'm happy that I'm putting myself in a good position out there."
Saltalamacchia opened the ninth with a double. He moved to third on a sacrifice fly before scoring easily on Ciriaco's double.
The victory moved Boston into a virtual tie with the Blue Jays for fourth place in the American League East.
Toronto opened the scoring in the first inning.
Yunel Escobar hit a sharp single to right-fielder Cody Ross, driving in Edwin Encarnacion. Adam Lind also tried to score on the play but Ross made a solid throw to home plate to get him in plenty of time.
Ross came through again the next inning with a solo home run to pull the Red Sox even.
The Blue Jays threatened in the bottom half of the second with runners on the corners. Rajai Davis hit a drive to deep left field but left-fielder Daniel Nava made a brilliant running catch against the wall for the final out.
Boston took a 2-1 lead in the fourth when Saltalamacchia looped a single into centre field, easily scoring Ross from third base. Villanueva escaped further damage by getting Ryan Lavarnway to ground out with two men on base.
Jays centre-fielder Anthony Gose used his blazing speed to his advantage in the fifth. He legged out an infield single, stole second and moved to third when Brett Lawrie of Langley, B.C., laid down a nice bunt near the first-base line.
Gose scored on Lind's sacrifice fly to shallow centre field. Boston outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury was charged with an error after throwing the ball well wide of home plate.
"When he gets on base he can create some havoc as we've seen," Farrell said of his young centre-fielder. "But he's improving right in front of our eyes here at the major-league level."
The runners advanced on the play but Escobar hit a weak grounder to end the threat. Boston had a runner on third in the seventh inning but Villanueva fanned Aviles to prevent the Red Sox from pulling ahead.
Boston loaded the bases in the eighth inning on three walks. Delabar nearly walked Ross for the go-ahead run but fought back for the strikeout. James Loney popped up to second base for the third out.
A decent crowd of 27,325 was in attendance, not a bad number considering both teams played several late-season callups and are well out of contention.
Notes: Villanueva got a nice ovation while walking to the dugout after being pulled in the eighth inning. He raised his hat to the cheering fans. ... The Red Sox will send southpaw Jon Lester (9-11) to the mound for the series finale while the Blue Jays will counter with right-hander Brandon Morrow (8-6). ... The roof remained open throughout the game even though dark clouds hovered in the area throughout the afternoon. ... Boston is just 13-29 since Aug. 1.