Each day brings the surging Baltimore Orioles closer to an improbable playoff berth. It also allows them to keep pace in the race for an even unlikelier division title.
Seeking a season-high sixth straight win, the Orioles aim to continue their Fenway Park dominance Saturday against the Boston Red Sox.
A 93-loss season in 2011 seems like a lifetime ago for Baltimore (86-64), which has won 21 of 31 to move into the AL's top wild-card spot. The Orioles opened this three-game series with a 4-2 victory Friday night, pinning a loss on Boston left-hander Jon Lester for the first time in 21 meetings.
Matt Wieters drove in three runs and Jim Johnson notched his club record and major league-leading 46th save for Baltimore, which remained one game behind the Yankees in the East. New York beat the Athletics 2-1 in 10 innings to drop Oakland one game in back of the Orioles.
"I think Buck's (Showalter) done a very good job of trying to change the mentality of the players," Lester said. "The offense was always there. They could always hit the ball and run. They lacked a little bit of the pitching, whether it was the starting or the back end of the bullpen. They've done a good job filling those pieces. It's finally coming together for them."
Friday's victory was the league-leading 44th on the road for Baltimore, which has won eight of nine in Boston dating to last season. The Orioles need one more win in this series to record seven victories at Fenway in a single season for the first time since 1966, the year of the franchise's first World Series title.
"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."
Mark Reynolds also knocked in a run Friday for Baltimore, and he's batting .441 (15 for 34) with five homers and 15 RBIs against the Red Sox this year.
Wieters' three-RBI night gave him eight in his last four games.
Assured of its first losing season since 1997 - the year of Baltimore's last winning campaign - the Red Sox (68-84) have dropped three straight overall and six of seven at home.
Jim Thome was activated from the disabled list Friday and could be back in Baltimore's lineup for the first time after missing nearly two months with a herniated disc in his neck. Thome, though, is 0 for 5 lifetime against scheduled starter Aaron Cook (4-10, 4.93 ERA).
Orioles second baseman Robert Andino seems unlikely to play after he was hit in the left ear flap by a pitch from Mark Melancon in the ninth inning. He was scheduled to have a CAT scan.
Randy Wolf (2-0, 5.23) makes his second start of the season for the Orioles. In his first career AL start following three relief appearances, the veteran left-hander gave up two runs and six hits over four innings at Oakland on Sunday, but it was enough to help Baltimore avoid a sweep with a 9-5 victory.
Including his time with Milwaukee, Wolf is 0-4 with a 5.80 ERA in his last seven starts since beating St. Louis on July 17.
Cook looks to win consecutive starts for the first time since late June. The sinkerballer snapped a six-start winless streak with a 5-2 victory at Tampa Bay on Monday, allowing one run and five hits over six innings.
He has posted a 3.18 ERA in three outings this month after going 1-4 with a 6.46 ERA in four starts in August.
The Orioles have beaten Cook in both matchups this season, reaching the right-hander for 12 runs - eight earned - and 11 hits in eight innings.
The Associated Press News Service
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