BOSTON (AP) - With the Boston Red Sox having locked up their first losing season since 1997, Jon Lester could admire the success the Baltimore Orioles are having with their first winning record since that same year.
The Red Sox, on the verge of finishing last for the first time in 20 years, opened their final homestand of the season with a 4-2 loss to the surprising Orioles on Friday night. Baltimore, which finished 69-93 a year ago, improved to 22 games over .500 in Buck Showalter's second full season as manager.
``I think Buck's 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.'
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. However, now he's 0-1 in his last four starts against them, all victories by the Orioles.
``It was bound to happen sometime. They're playing good this year,' he said. ``They've always had a good offense. They're just putting everything else together. Like I said, it was bound to happen.'
Matt Wieters drove in three runs, Miguel Gonzalez pitched 6 1-3 solid innings and the Orioles remained one game behind the first-place New York Yankees in the AL East.
``Jon was good tonight,' Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said. ``Wieters hit a couple of balls - one down the right-field line and one down the left-field line - that barely stayed fair.'
The Yankees beat Oakland 2-1 in 10 innings. The Orioles broke a tie with the Athletics for the top wild-card spot. All three teams have 12 games remaining.
Gonzalez (7-4) allowed two runs on seven hits with three strikeouts and one walk as the Orioles improved to 6-1 this season at Fenway Park. They lead the AL with 44 wins on the road.
Jim Johnson pitched the ninth for his club-record 46th save, one more than the previous record Randy Myers set in 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.'
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.
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.
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.
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 Red Sox 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.
The Associated Press News Service
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