The Boston Red Sox enter the final series of the season in prime position to claim home-field advantage in the AL playoffs.
Though their own playoff hopes have already evaporated, the Baltimore Orioles can still capture their second straight season series against the Red Sox for the first time in 21 years.
Boston visits Baltimore on Friday night with Clay Buchholz looking to bounce back from his lone loss.
The Red Sox pushed themselves two games ahead of Oakland for the league's best record and trimmed their magic number for home-field advantage to two following a 15-5 victory at Colorado on Wednesday. The Athletics end their season with three games in Seattle.
Will Middlebrooks provided two homers for a career-high seven RBIs Wednesday, including his third career grand slam. He's just 8 for 37 (.216) in 11 games versus Baltimore this year.
"It's good to see him in the stretch he's been in of late, to not only drive the ball out of the ballpark but stay on the ball and drive it out to right field," manager John Farrell said as one of Middlebrooks' homers went to the opposite field. "That's when we feel like he's got good plate coverage and he's at his best."
With a sweep, Boston (96-63) would match the fourth-best record in franchise history (1978).
The Red Sox would seem to have a good chance to add to their win total considering they're 13-2 in games Buchholz (11-1, 1.60 ERA) starts, but one of those defeats came against Toronto on Saturday. The right-hander yielded three runs in six innings of a 4-2 setback after allowing one run over 11 innings in winning his first two starts since a strained neck kept him out for more than three months.
But Buchholz seems to be finding his form, as his pitch counts have increased steadily from 74 to 91 to 106 since returning.
"I feel good. Movement on all the pitches is there," he said. "It's just the command and location and where to start it, which is sometimes hard to get better. The velocity is there and the body feels good."
Buchholz is 3-0 with a 1.13 ERA over his last three starts against Baltimore, including seven scoreless innings in a 3-1 victory on April 8. He's also 5-0 with a 0.95 ERA in five road starts overall this year.
The Orioles (83-76) are one win away from clinching the season series as they lead it 9-7 after taking two of three at Fenway last week. They haven't done so in two straight years since 1991-92.
Home run leader Chris Davis didn't play Thursday due to an illness but Baltimore took a 3-2 win over Toronto, the club's second in a row after a six-game skid. Davis has six homers and 14 RBIs in 16 meetings with Boston this year despite batting .226 with 27 strikeouts. He's 3 for 15 off Buchholz with one homer and six strikeouts.
Starting for the Orioles will be Scott Feldman (5-5, 3.57), who is 3-2 with a 2.08 ERA over his last eight starts. In Boston on Sept. 17, the right-hander gave up two runs and two hits in five innings but walked a career-high six and didn't get a decision in a 3-2 win.
Mike Napoli has been out of Boston's lineup for four straight games due to plantar fasciitis but Farrell told the team's official website he'll likely play first base Friday. He is 11 for 27 (.407) off Feldman with two home runs.
Jacoby Ellsbury was 1 for 2 with a walk and two runs against Colorado on Wednesday after missing 16 contests with a fractured right foot. He's hitting .441 with five stolen bases during an eight-game hitting streak versus Baltimore.
|Boston Red Sox|
|September 01, 2013||Shane Victorino||Day-to-Day||Left hip contusion|
|August 29, 2013||Mike Carp||Day-to-Day||Left shoulder irritation|
|August 17, 2013||Mike Napoli||Day-to-Day||Sore left foot|
|August 08, 2013||Brandon Snyder||15-Day DL||Ulnar neuritis, right elbow|
|August 08, 2013||Brandon Snyder||15-Day DL||Ulnar neuritis, right elbow|
|August 05, 2013||Matt Thornton||15-Day DL||Strained right oblique|
|September 26, 2013||Chris Dickerson||Day-to-Day||Hamstring|
|September 26, 2013||Chris Davis||Day-to-Day||Foot|
|September 25, 2013||Manny Machado||60-Day DL||Torn ligament, left knee|
|September 23, 2013||Manny Machado||Day-to-Day||Strained left knee|
|August 31, 2013||Eric Beaulac||15-Day DL||Torn labrum, right hip|
|August 28, 2013||Steve Pearce||15-Day DL||Left wrist inflammation|
BALTIMORE (AP) -- Doesn't take much more than simple math to figure out Clay Buchholz has worked his way back and is ready for the playoffs.
In four starts since a lengthy stint on the disabled list, Buchholz's pitch count has grown from 74 to 113, the last of those during Boston's 12-3 rout of the Baltimore Orioles on Friday night.
"He's answered the physical question, for sure," Boston manager John Farrell said.
Buchholz (12-1) allowed up three runs and seven hits in seven innings, and Daniel Nava and David Ortiz hit three-run homers for the Red Sox, who had an 8-0 lead by the third inning. Dustin Pedroia added three hits, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia had a three-run drive overturned in a video review.
The win left the AL East champions needing one more win or a loss by Oakland to clinch the AL's best record. The Athletics won 8-2 at Seattle.
Given a big lead before his first pitch, Buchholz rebounded from a loss to Toronto last weekend. A strained neck that cost him three months interrupted what has been a stellar season statistically. His ERA is 1.74, and he's 6-0 with a 1.40 ERA in seven road starts. He's also 4-0 with a 1.74 ERA in his last four starts against Baltimore.
"It's a good stepping stone," Buchholz said. "I'm just glad the team could score all those runs. There wasn't a whole lot of stress in the outing today."
That was probably for the best, given that Buchholz's routine was upset by the team's off day Thursday, when he said he basically slept all day.
"My body felt a little lethargic tonight," he said. "I felt when I woke up this morning that it might be a grinding outing for me today, which I felt I needed, too. Anybody can go out there when you have your best stuff."
Adam Jones ' two-run homer in the third was the first home run by a right-handed hitter off Buchholz this year. Buchholz also gave up Chris Davis ' major league-leading 53rd homer in the sixth.
Scott Feldman (5-6) allowed eight runs and eight hits in 2 1-3 innings for the Orioles, who have lost seven of nine.
"It would've been nice to finish up a little stronger heading to the offseason coming off a good game," Feldman said. "But the bottom line is, we all, everybody in here, wanted to make the playoffs and we didn't do it. Hopefully next year we'll get in there."
Boston hit for the cycle as a team in the first, when Mike Napoli had an RBI double, Nava sent a first-pitch curveball in the right-field bleachers, and Stephen Drew hit an RBI triple.
Saltalamacchia's drive off Feldman in the third hit the top side of the cushion atop the right-field wall and caromed back onto the field. After the play Initially ruled a home run, umpires reviewed the video and gave Saltalamacchia a double that left two men on. Drew followed with a two-run single off Zach Britton .
Ortiz hit his 30th homer in the eighth, the first batter faced by former Boston College pitcher Mike Belfiore in his major league debut.
"Welcome to the big leagues," Ortiz said. "I heard he's from Boston, too."
NOTES: Ortiz tied Ted Williams ' team record for 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons with seven. ... Davis' homer was his 28th at home, breaking the previous franchise record set by Frank Robinson in Memorial Stadium in 1966. Davis was back in the lineup after missing one game with a sore right foot. An X-ray on Thursday showed nothing worrisome. "It was more about just letting me catch my breath," Davis said. ... Jones' homer was his career-best 33rd, one more than last year. ... Red Sox OF Shane Victorino sat out with a nagging thumb injury. "Fully expect he'll be in the lineup tomorrow," Farrell said. ... Napoli went 1 for 3 with two walks in his return to Boston's lineup after missing four games with a left foot injury, and CF Jacoby Ellsbury was 0 for 4 in his second game after missing 16 with a broken right foot. ... A handful of Red Sox players debuted a new slogan before the game, wearing red T-shirts that read: "3 lines, 2 Chainz, 1 goal."
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