Orioles-Red Sox Preview
By KATE HEDLIN
(AP) -- Pressure certainly doesn't seem to be bothering the Baltimore Orioles as they chase their first playoff berth since 1997.
The Orioles will try to beat nemesis Jon Lester for the first time Friday night when they open a three-game road series against the Boston Red Sox in the midst of a tight playoff race.
Baltimore is coming off a much-deserved day off following two extra-inning wins at Seattle to complete a three-game sweep.
Following an 18-inning victory Tuesday, Adam Jones hit a two-run homer in the 11th in a 3-1 win Wednesday. It was his fourth home run this season in the 11th inning or later while 19 of his 30 homers have either tied the game or given the Orioles the lead.
"We're just on a mission," Jones told the Orioles' official website. "I think our determination is so strong right now to where it doesn't matter who is on the mound, we know we've got to scratch and claw and beat them."
The Orioles (85-64) are one game behind New York in the AL East and are tied with Oakland for the top wild-card spot.
Baltimore's finish could depend largely on how it finishes the season against Boston, a reversal of last season, when the Red Sox dropped five of the final seven meetings over the last two weeks to miss the playoffs.
The Orioles will try to match a season high with their fifth straight win overall and beat the Red Sox for the ninth time in 13 matchups this year. Baltimore has won seven of eight at Fenway Park dating to last season.
Although the Orioles have won both times when facing Lester (9-12, 4.95 ERA) this year, they have yet to pin a loss on him in 20 career meetings. The left-hander is 14-0 with a 2.49 ERA in the series, but has allowed seven runs - five earned - over 12 innings in those two outings in 2012.
Lester allowed three runs and four hits while striking out seven over seven innings in a 5-0 defeat at Toronto on Sunday. He is 3-8 with a 6.51 ERA in 16 starts at Fenway this season.
After their starters compiled a 1.86 ERA in three wins in Seattle, the Orioles hand the ball to Miguel Gonzalez (6-4, 3.57).
The right-hander overcame five walks to limit Tampa Bay to two runs and six hits over six innings before leaving without a decision in a 3-2 win on Sept. 12.
Gonzalez shouldn't mind pitching on the road, where he 4-2 with a 3.06 ERA compared to 2-2 with a 4.41 ERA at home.
He's posted a 2.70 ERA in one start and one relief appearance against the Red Sox this season.
Boston (68-83) enters this set after splitting four games at Tampa Bay. The Red Sox appeared headed for a series win Thursday, entering the ninth with a 4-1 lead but closer Andrew Bailey was charged with five runs and Vicente Padilla served up a game-ending, three-run homer.
"It's inexcusable. There's no other way to describe it," Bailey said. "I've got to get that job done. Find a way to get out of the inning. (Clay) Buchholz, obviously, deserved a `W'. I let him down."
Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia went 0 for 16 in the four-game series versus Tampa Bay but is 5 for 13 in his last three games against the Orioles.
Updated September 21, 2012