Pressure certainly doesn't seem to be bothering the Baltimore Orioles as they chase their first playoff berth since 1997.
The Orioles will try to beat nemesis Jon Lester for the first time Friday night when they open a three-game road series against the Boston Red Sox in the midst of a tight playoff race.
Baltimore is coming off a much-deserved day off following two extra-inning wins at Seattle to complete a three-game sweep.
Following an 18-inning victory Tuesday, Adam Jones hit a two-run homer in the 11th in a 3-1 win Wednesday. It was his fourth home run this season in the 11th inning or later while 19 of his 30 homers have either tied the game or given the Orioles the lead.
"We're just on a mission," Jones told the Orioles' official website. "I think our determination is so strong right now to where it doesn't matter who is on the mound, we know we've got to scratch and claw and beat them."
The Orioles (85-64) are one game behind New York in the AL East and are tied with Oakland for the top wild-card spot.
Baltimore's finish could depend largely on how it finishes the season against Boston, a reversal of last season, when the Red Sox dropped five of the final seven meetings over the last two weeks to miss the playoffs.
The Orioles will try to match a season high with their fifth straight win overall and beat the Red Sox for the ninth time in 13 matchups this year. Baltimore has won seven of eight at Fenway Park dating to last season.
Although the Orioles have won both times when facing Lester (9-12, 4.95 ERA) this year, they have yet to pin a loss on him in 20 career meetings. The left-hander is 14-0 with a 2.49 ERA in the series, but has allowed seven runs - five earned - over 12 innings in those two outings in 2012.
Lester allowed three runs and four hits while striking out seven over seven innings in a 5-0 defeat at Toronto on Sunday. He is 3-8 with a 6.51 ERA in 16 starts at Fenway this season.
After their starters compiled a 1.86 ERA in three wins in Seattle, the Orioles hand the ball to Miguel Gonzalez (6-4, 3.57).
The right-hander overcame five walks to limit Tampa Bay to two runs and six hits over six innings before leaving without a decision in a 3-2 win on Sept. 12.
Gonzalez shouldn't mind pitching on the road, where he 4-2 with a 3.06 ERA compared to 2-2 with a 4.41 ERA at home.
He's posted a 2.70 ERA in one start and one relief appearance against the Red Sox this season.
Boston (68-83) enters this set after splitting four games at Tampa Bay. The Red Sox appeared headed for a series win Thursday, entering the ninth with a 4-1 lead but closer Andrew Bailey was charged with five runs and Vicente Padilla served up a game-ending, three-run homer."It's inexcusable. There's no other way to describe it," Bailey said. "I've got to get that job done. Find a way to get out of the inning. (Clay) Buchholz, obviously, deserved a `W'. I let him down."
Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia went 0 for 16 in the four-game series versus Tampa Bay but is 5 for 13 in his last three games against the Orioles.
|September 11, 2012||Jason Hammel||Day-to-Day||Left game - right knee injury|
|September 09, 2012||Nick Markakis||Day-to-Day||Broken left thumb|
|September 02, 2012||Chris Tillman||Day-to-Day||Left game - stiff right elbow|
|August 22, 2012||Matt Wieters||Day-to-Day||Left game - right shoulder contusion|
|August 13, 2012||Troy Patton||15-Day DL||Sprained right ankle|
|August 12, 2012||Wilson Betemit||15-Day DL||Sore right wrist|
|Boston Red Sox|
|September 07, 2012||Jarrod Saltalamacchia||Day-to-Day||Left game - back spasms|
|September 02, 2012||Jacoby Ellsbury||Day-to-Day||Sore right wrist|
|August 25, 2012||Daniel Nava||15-Day DL||Sprained left wrist|
|August 25, 2012||Daniel Nava||15-Day DL||Sprained left wrist|
|August 25, 2012||David Ortiz||15-Day DL||Aggravated right Achilles strain|
|August 24, 2012||Franklin Morales||60-Day DL||Left shoulder fatigue|
BOSTON (AP) -- The Baltimore Orioles ' outstanding bullpen is a big reason they're vying for the AL East lead. And Jim Johnson is the biggest reason for the success of that bullpen.
Johnson set a franchise record with his major league-leading 46th save and the Orioles beat the Boston Red Sox 4-2 on Friday night to remain one game behind the first-place New York Yankees .
The record means "that we're winning and we're having a good season," he said. "That's all it really means right now."
Baltimore closers hadn't had much of a shot at the record of 45 set by Randy Myers in 1997, the last time the Orioles finished the season with a winning record. They had no more than 69 wins in any of the last four years. But now they're 86-64 with 12 games left.
"When you talk about the history of the Orioles, you've got everybody's attention. That's pretty long and deep," manager Buck Showalter said of Johnson's record, but "Jimmy's got other goals in mind."
Those goals are winning playoff games and the Orioles are in good shape to have a chance. They can reach the postseason by winning the division or with a wild-card berth. They lead Oakland by one game for the first AL wild-card spot after the Athletics lost to the New York Yankees 2-1 in 10 innings.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, are 68-84 and assured of their first losing season since 1997.
"We were even seeing for the first time ... Baltimore fans in Boston," Johnson said. "I've never seen that before, so it's pretty cool how things are changing."
Matt Wieters drove in three runs and was behind the plate for Johnson's record-setting save.
"Both are nice," he said. "It took me a second to click in. I think when I was walking to the mound I realized he just broke the Orioles save record so that's pretty cool to get to catch that one."
Jon Lester (9-13) lost for the first time in his 21 career starts against the Orioles. He had been 14-0, the longest winning streak against the Orioles franchise for a pitcher at the start of his career since at least 1901. It had been the longest current winning streak by an active pitcher against any team. But he's 0-1 in his last four starts against them, all Orioles victories.
"It was bound to happen sometime," Lester said. "They're playing good this year. They've always had a good offense. They're just putting everything else together."
Miguel Gonzalez (7-4) allowed two runs on seven hits with three strikeouts and one walk in 6 1-3 innings as the Orioles improved to 6-1 this season at Fenway Park. They lead the AL with 44 wins on the road.
"They've got some home run hitters in the middle of the lineup and their bullpen's been `shut down.' `' Boston manager Bobby Valentine said.
The score was tied 2-2 after five innings before the Orioles went ahead with two runs in the sixth.
Adam Jones walked with one out and scored on a double by Wieters. A wild pitch by Lester sent Wieters to third and Mark Reynolds drove him in with a single. Reynolds went 2 for 4 and is 15 for 34 in 10 games against Boston this year.
"Every time they scored we had an answer, it seemed like," Showalter said, "and Matt was in the middle of that."
Baltimore second baseman Robert Andino left the game in the ninth after being hit in the left ear flap by a fastball from Mark Melancon . He was scheduled to have a CAT scan.
The Red Sox took a 1-0 lead in the third on doubles by Daniel Nava and Pedro Ciriaco . Then Wieters got his first big hit of the night in the fourth with a two-run single with no outs. It drove in J.J. Hardy, who had singled, and Jones, who had doubled.
"He's done a good job in the past against me, getting the barrel of the bat on those cutters down and in," Lester said of Wieters.
Boston tied it in the fifth when Gonzalez retired the first two batters then allowed consecutive singles by Ciriaco, Scott Podsednik and Dustin Pedroia , who snapped an 0 for 18 slump.
The game was the start of the Red Sox's final homestand of a disappointing season. But they could have an impact on the postseason race with two home games each against Baltimore and Tampa Bay before they finish with three games at Baltimore and three at New York.
NOTES: The Orioles activated DH Jim Thome and LHP Troy Patton from the 15-day disabled list. ... The Red Sox recalled 3B Danny Valencia and RHPs Pedro Beato and Zach Stewart from Triple-A Pawtucket. ... Former pro wrestler George "The Animal" Steele, who wrestled at Fenway Park on June 28, 1969, threw out one of the ceremonial first pitches. Known for biting the turnbuckle when he wrestled, he appeared to bite the ball before throwing. The other ceremonial pitch was thrown by Jim Roosevelt Jr., grandson of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who gave his final campaign speech at Fenway on Nov. 4, 1944. ... Randy Wolf (2-0) is scheduled to pitch for the Orioles against Aaron Cook (4-10) on Saturday in the second game of the three-game series.