The Boston Red Sox missed out on last year's playoffs after losing to the Baltimore Orioles on the last day of the season.
While the Red Sox have a chance to play spoiler this time around, doing so could prove difficult given both clubs' recent efforts.
Visiting Boston tries to avoid a seventh loss in eight games Friday night when it opens a three-game set against a Baltimore team coming off its most impressive power display in 27 years.
Chris Davis and Manny Machado each hit a pair of home runs as the Orioles (89-67) tied a team record with seven Wednesday, salvaging a four-game split against Toronto with a 12-2 victory. Nate McLouth , Mark Reynolds and Jim Thome also went deep for Baltimore, which previously hit seven homers in 1967 and 1985.
"Home runs are very unique, and when you do what we did tonight, it's something to be proud of," Thome said. "It's something that doesn't happen a whole lot in the game."
Wednesday's victory kept the Orioles just behind New York for first place in the AL East and on top of the wild-card standings.
"There's no stress in here, there's no pressure on us," center fielder Adam Jones , batting .400 with three homers and six RBIs in his last eight games, told the team's official website. "We're not supposed to be here according to everybody in the media. We're just playing. We know what's at stake."
With six games remaining, Baltimore is trying to hold on for its first playoff berth since 1997. The Orioles took two of three at Fenway Park last weekend to improve to 10-5 against Boston (69-87), and they'll face a Red Sox team that's been outscored 43-21 during a 1-6 slump before visiting Tampa Bay following this series.
"We just got through playing Boston and we played them well," Davis said. "Obviously, the three in Tampa are going to be tough, but we're at a point where we still have a chance, so that's all you can ask for."
The Orioles will give the ball to Chris Tillman (8-2, 3.08 ERA), who's posted a 1.64 ERA over his last four starts while holding opponents to a .154 average.
The right-hander was sharp against the Red Sox on Sunday but didn't factor in the decision of a 2-1 loss, yielding one run and six hits over six innings. Tillman had gone 0-1 with a 5.73 ERA over his previous three career starts versus Boston.
The Red Sox are coming off a two-game sweep at the hands of the Rays, falling 4-2 on Wednesday to finish 34-47 at home - matching their worst mark since 1965.
"Disappointing," manager Bobby Valentine said. "We didn't walk off many (times) and didn't score enough runs. We've got a lot saved up for next year.
"Not much I would have done differently, I don't think, other than I think would have kept the beer in the clubhouse. I think I could have used one after a few of those games."
The Red Sox haven't been very formidable on the road, either, dropping 12 of 17 by a 106-52 margin.
Boston will try to get on track behind Aaron Cook (4-10, 5.13), who's posted a 6.12 ERA over his last five outings. The right-hander gave up five runs and nine hits over 5 1-3 innings Saturday in a 9-6, 12-inning loss to Baltimore.
Cook is 0-2 with an 8.78 ERA over three starts against the Orioles this season.
|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||David Ortiz||15-Day DL||Aggravated right Achilles strain|
|August 25, 2012||Daniel Nava||15-Day DL||Sprained left wrist|
|August 25, 2012||Daniel Nava||15-Day DL||Sprained left wrist|
|August 24, 2012||Franklin Morales||60-Day DL||Left shoulder fatigue|
|September 26, 2012||Randy Wolf||60-Day DL||Torn UCL, left elbow - out for season|
|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|
BALTIMORE (AP) -- Chris Tillman already has more wins in 2012 than the combined total over his first three years in the big leagues.
That might come as a shock, except nothing the Baltimore Orioles do this season is all that surprising anymore.
Tillman pitched eight innings of one-hit ball, Ryan Flaherty hit his first career grand slam and the Orioles beat the Boston Red Sox 9-1 on Friday night remain a game out of first place in the AL East.
Chris Davis hit a two-run homer as the Orioles kept pace with the division-leading Yankees, who beat Toronto 11-4. Baltimore also tightened its grip on the top AL wild-card spot.
Tillman (9-2) gave up a bunt single to leadoff hitter Scott Podsednik , then allowed only two walks the rest of the way in his longest outing since July 4. The right-hander retired the final 14 batters he faced, and the only run he allowed was unearned.
Tillman came to spring training with a 7-15 lifetime record. Although he pitched well in camp, he began the season with Triple-A Norfolk and remained there until July. In his last 12 starts, the 24-year-old is 8-1 with a 3.00 ERA and has become one of the most effective starters on the staff.
"He's one win away from winning 10 games, but we hopefully have bigger fish to fry," manager Buck Showalter said. "He keeps putting himself in a position to be worthy of getting the ball."
Said Tillman: "I feel like I'm confident in my delivery, and when you have confidence in that, things will play out well for you. I just got to take it pitch-by-pitch and not get too worried about the next inning or the next game. One step at a time."
Troy Patton worked the ninth to complete the one-hitter.
It was the 90th win for the Orioles, who went 69-93 last season. If Baltimore wins three of its last five games it will make the postseason, regardless of how the other contenders fare.
Boston has lost 14 of 20. Starter Aaron Cook (4-11) went one-plus innings, allowing six runs, five hits and three walks. Only 18 of his 42 pitches were strikes.
"I wasn't making pitches. I was behind, and when I did come in there they hit balls over the fence," Cook said.
Asked what he might have done differently to be successful, Cook replied, "Not walk (anyone) and not give up hits."
Flaherty, a Rule 5 rookie, became the latest in a long line of heroes during the Orioles' improbable season. He was batting .225 with five homers and 14 RBIs in 72 games before connecting to cap a six-run first inning that included a two-run drive by Davis.
Flaherty also doubled in a run in the fifth. The five RBIs were two more than his previous career high, and it was only the third time he drove in more than one run in a game.
"Yeah, it seems like every night it's someone new," Flaherty said. "Whether it is a pitcher, a hitter, a play in the field, something. We'll keep riding it."
Baltimore has hit nine homers in its last two games and has 122 at home, eclipsing the season record of 121 set in 1996.
In addition, the Orioles reached a positive run differential - 697-690 - for the first time since June 24.
Boston scored an unearned run in the first inning. Podsednik bunted to the right side and reached second when Flaherty's throw went wide of first baseman Mark Reynolds . Two batters later, Dustin Pedroia hit a sacrifice fly.
In the bottom half, Nate McLouth singled on Cook's first pitch and Davis hit a drive into the seats in right. After two singles and a walk loaded the bases, Flaherty sent a 2-1 breaking ball deep into the night for a 6-1 lead.
Successive doubles by Reynolds, Manny Machado and Flaherty, along with an RBI single by Taylor Teagarden , made it 9-1 in the fifth.
NOTES: Orioles C Matt Wieters wasn't at the ballpark after his wife gave birth to the couple's first child, Maverick Luther, earlier in the day. ... Red Sox CF Jacoby Ellsbury , out since Sept. 20 with an unspecified injury, could return to the lineup as soon as Saturday, Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said. ... Orioles rookie Steve Johnson (4-0) will start on Saturday night against Felix Doubront , who's got a 2.08 ERA in three starts against Baltimore this year. ... The crowd of 33,518 boosted home attendance for the season over 2 million for the first time since 2007. ... Cook is 0-3 with an 11.93 ERA in four starts against the Orioles in 2012.