BALTIMORE — Their three-day business trip in Baltimore had just ended. With a 5-0 win over the Orioles Sunday, the Red Sox had managed to leave Camden Yards with a series win after having lost six straight series to Baltimore, slowly shaking their offense back to life after it had been knocked into a coma by a flurry of the AL East’s best pitchers.
They showered, threw on their getaway-day suits, tucked their belongings into their luggage, and readied themselves for a flight to Boston that would last barely as long as an episode of “Mad Men.”
They gave passing but attentive glances at the televisions hanging in the visiting clubhouse.
They were able to get a quick glimpse of the Gatorade that showered Alfonso Soriano after his one-out single in the ninth inning helped the Yankees put the Rays away, 6-5, in New York.
Whatever enjoyment they got out of seeing the Yankees walk the Rays off was schadenfreude.
The Rays’ loss meant that the Sox would travel back to Boston a half-game ahead of Tampa Bay for the lead in the division . After the Rays won two of their three games last week, the teams battle again in a makeup game Monday night.
After falling into a rut at the start of a 10-game test against AL East opponents, they put up 20 hits and 12 runs to close out the last two games against the Orioles, both wins, and were able to see some light at the end of a grueling stretch.
“It’s competition,” David Ortiz said. “AL East. You’re going to find competition everywhere. Especially in this situation where we’re fighting Tampa for first place. It’s something that we needed.”
After being ejected Saturday night for arguing balls and strikes with plate umpire Tim Timmons and then, in a fit of rage, using his bat to destroy a dugout phone, Ortiz entered Sunday’s game already dripping gasoline.
Dustin Pedroia, who had done his best to calm Ortiz during the blowup, decided to light the match early Sunday.
“Pedey just got him kind of riled up this morning talking about the argument and the phone and this and that, and yelling at him,” said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. “So that got David upset and got him going.”
Orioles fans did the rest, drooling at the chance to boo an obvious villain as soon as he stepped to the plate in the first. As loud as the din was when he stepped to the plate, it couldn’t drown out the playfully ironic music beating through the speakers, Young Jeezy’s “Lose My Mind.”
The fans didn’t know it would lead to a 4-for-4 day for Ortiz.
His ground-ball single through the shift in right field didn’t quiet them immediately, although it extended the inning long enough for Mike Napoli to drive an RBI double to right to put the Orioles in an early hole. But when Ortiz returned in the third inning, with Jacoby Ellsbury on first and two outs, he only needed three pitches to turn the volume down.
He shot Jason Hammel’s 2-and-0 slider over the left-field wall for a two-run blast, trotted calmly around the bases, tapped his chest, and pointed to the sky as he crossed the plate.
When Ortiz turned to make his way back to the dugout, taking some small pleasure in pulling the plug on 32,891 fans, he made a small gesture. He put his finger to his lips, telling them all, “Shhhhhh.”
“He’s one guy you don’t want to mess with and tick off,” said Saltalamacchia, who went 2 for 4 with a double and two RBIs. “Thankfully he’s on our side.”
Napoli went 2 for 4 with two doubles. Ellsbury went 2 for 5 with a run. But Ortiz propped up the offense, giving lefthander Jon Lester more than enough breathing room.
In his second start since taking two extra days to rest after the All-Star break, Lester pounded the zone with his fastball, throwing 65 of his 99 pitches for strikes. He worked seven innings, fanning eight.
When he found himself in tight spots, like the first-and-second jam in the fifth with Manny Machado at the plate or the first-and-second, no-out hole in the sixth against Matt Wieters, Lester had the answers.
The staredown with Machado did everything to test his patience. He threw five pitches, all seemingly in the strike zone, but found himself behind 3-and-1.
“It’s tough,” Lester said. “Especially in a situation like that where you’ve got runners on base. That can really kind of change the momentum to them.”
Instead of getting rattled by the borderline calls, he honed in and got Machado to line softly to short to end the inning.
“It’s his focus and concentration,” said manager John Farrell of Lester. “He’s maintained it from pitch to pitch regardless of what’s going on around him. He pitches out of some tight situations by just staying in the moment and not letting a borderline pitch not go his way affect him or have any carryover effect. He does a very good job of separating the previous pitch from the one he’s trying to execute at the time.”
Things got hairy against Wieters. The Sox’ lead was 3-0 at that point, and Wieters drove a fly ball to left field. It soared slowly, threatening to tie the game and spoil Lester’s outing, before drifting foul.
Lester gathered himself and Wieters chased after a fastball high out of the zone to strike out.
“He took some pretty good pitches off me to start with and then I had to grind back into the count,” Lester said. “I was able to get him to swing at a bad pitch. He normally doesn’t do that. I was fortunate that he did instead of fouling it off.”
He then got J.J. Hardy to hit into a double play.
For the first time in more than three weeks, Lester went seven innings.
He left Baltimore with his 10th win of the season, knowing that it not only put a brief end to the bullying the Sox had sustained from the Orioles this season (they entered 3-6 against the Birds) but that it set them up for the makeup game against the Rays.
“I think the biggest point is they’ve given us a lot of trouble this year and for us to come down here and take two out of three, especially after that series against the Rays, is big,” Lester said. “It’s big for us and it puts us in a good position to go back home.”Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.