BALTIMORE (AP) -As long as Boston's starters keep throwing effectively, the Red Sox will have an excellent chance to win - even if their opponent isn't the Baltimore Orioles.
Daisuke Matsuzaka extended an outstanding stretch by Boston's rotation, and the Red Sox cruised past the Orioles 9-3 Sunday for a three-game sweep.
Jason Bay and Jacoby Ellsbury both homered and drove in three runs for the Red Sox, who captured the season series 16-2 by winning the final eight games.
The victory, combined with the Texas Rangers' loss to Los Angeles, reduced Boston's magic number to win the AL wild card to seven. The Red Sox have an eight-game lead over the Rangers.
Pitching for the second time since returning from a three-month stay on the disabled list with a strained right shoulder, Matsuzaka (3-5) allowed three runs and eight hits in 5 1-3 innings. The right-hander struck out five and walked one, a suitable follow-up to the six shutout innings he threw against L.A. on Tuesday.
Boston starters have allowed three runs or fewer in 13 straight games, going 8-1 with a 2.18 ERA. That's one reason why the Red Sox have won 10 of 11, including a 3-1 win Friday night.
``It's amazing how, when pitching is consistent, everything else seems to have a way of working, even when the bats aren't maybe alive,' manager Terry Francona said. ``It certainly gives you a chance every night to be a good team.'
The pitching and offense were perfectly aligned Sunday. While Matsuzaka kept the Orioles scoreless, Boston built a 6-0 lead over three innings against rookie Jason Berken (5-12).
``They pitched well. They hit well,' said Baltimore's Luke Scott, who hit his career-high 24th homer. ``They're a good team. It's just really simple. They outpitched us. They outhit us.'
Bay's 35th homer tied a career high, and the three RBIs gave him a career-best 110. The slugger sat out Saturday's game with flulike symptoms after leaving Friday's game early for the same reason.
``I got an IV before the game. It picked me up a little bit,' Bay said. ``I haven't been able to drink much, so the energy level was a little low. It felt a lot better today.'
Matt Wieters had his second straight three-hit game for the Orioles, but the difference was that Matsuzaka was effective and Berken was not.
``When we throw quality starts we've been in pretty much every game,' Boston catcher Jason Vartitek said. ``It's a big part of how we win.'
The Red Sox jumped to a 3-0 lead in the first inning. After Berken walked two of the first three batters, Bay hit an RBI single and Mike Lowell singled in two runs.
Victor Martinez extended his career-best hitting streak to 19 games with an RBI single in the second, and Ellsbury doubled in two runs in the third.
That was all the offense the Red Sox needed.
``The way I threw today is obviously unacceptable,' said Berken, who yielded 10 hits in three innings. ``I was falling behind consistently. It was just one of those days when I threw the ball awful.'
After Bay connected off Chris Waters in the fourth to make it 7-0, Scott hit a two-run shot in the bottom half.
Bay was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the sixth, and Ellsbury homered in the seventh, the final blow in a season series that clearly showed the disparity between the two teams.
``If you're going to compete with a team of that caliber, you've got to pitch up to their level and you've got to hit up to their level,' Scott said. ``We've gotten our hits and we've scored runs, but you've got to match them on the mound. That's the first place you've got to start.'
Notes: Berken had won three straight decisions since Aug. 18. ... The Red Sox improved to 37-37 on the road. ... The only other time Baltimore lost as many as 16 games in a season to Boston was in 1956. ... Boston's Alex Gonzalez scored his 500th career run.
The Associated Press News Service
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