DENVER — A group of 10 Red Sox players crowded onto three couches in front of a television in the visitor’s clubhouse at Coors Field Wednesday, watching the Athletics-Angels game.
The Sox wrapped up the American League East last week but are intent on staying ahead of Oakland and gaining home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
“It’s important to us,” catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. “These are still significant games.”
The Athletics lost and then the Sox took full advantage, pounding the Colorado Rockies, 15-5.
Will Middlebrooks drove in a career-high seven runs with two home runs, one a grand slam. Saltalamacchia was 4 for 5 with three RBIs. The Sox (96-63) now lead the Athletics (94-65) by two games with three to play.
The top seed will face the wild-card winner Oct. 4 in the first game of the division series.
Jake Peavy (12-5) went six innings and allowed five runs. But that was enough for the win on a night the teams combined for 26 hits, 11 of them for extra bases.
“The ball was flying. But I’ll take our lineup on a night like that,” Peavy said.
The Rockies lost on what was Todd Helton’s final game at Coors Field. The 17-year veteran, saluted throughout the night, was 2 for 3 with a home run and three RBIs.
The biggest development of the night for the Red Sox was the return of Jacoby Ellsbury to the lineup.
The center fielder and leadoff hitter was back after missing 16 games recovering from a small fracture on the surface of the navicular bone in his right foot. Ellsbury was 1 for 2 with a walk and played three innings in the field.
Dr. Thomas Clanton, a specialist in Vail, Colo., Tuesday cleared Ellsbury to play. It was Clanton who confirmed the original diagnosis of the Red Sox. Ellsbury wore a protective shield over his foot.
“I was just happy to get out there and play,” Ellsbury said. “Running around, kind of did everything I needed to do. The plan was to get three at-bats and we got them early. That was good.”
Ellsbury said he expects to play Friday in Baltimore. Ideally, Ellsbury would play the final three games of the regular season and be prepared for the playoffs.
“He came out of it feeling the same he did when he started. That was the most important thing,” manager John Farrell said. “Just to get him out on the field was a big step.”
Ellsbury started the game with a sharp single to right field. Shane Victorino followed with a bunt single. After Dustin Pedroia grounded into a force at second base, David Ortiz cracked a double to right.
Two runs scored and that gave Ortiz 100 RBIs for the first time since 2010 and the seventh time his career. Only Hall of Famers Ted Williams (nine) and Jim Rice (eight) have had more 100-RBI seasons for the Sox.
Peavy gave back two of the runs in the second inning. Helton homered to right field, a memory many in the crowd of 48,775 will treasure. Helton came out of the dugout and gave them a curtain call, too.
Yorvit Torrealba added an RBI double later in the inning.
Saltalamacchia’s RBI double gave the Red Sox a 4-2 lead in the third inning. But the Rockies came right back.
Peavy loaded the bases with no outs then struck out Michael Cuddyer. Helton’s sacrifice fly scored a run.
Nolan Arenado’s double tied the game and would have given the Rockies the lead had it not hopped over the fence. Peavy walked Corey Dickerson to load the bases again but got Torrealba on a fly ball to the gap in right field that Victorino ran down.
Two home runs opened the game up for the Red Sox.
Peavy had the first hit for a Sox pitcher this season when he doubled with one out in the fourth inning. After Ellsbury walked, Victorino drove a fastball into the bleachers in left field for his 15th home run. Eleven of Victorino’s home runs have come since the All-Star break.
Rockies starter Jhoulys Chacin (14-10) allowed seven runs on nine hits over four innings.
Saltalamacchia singled off reliever Rob Scahill in the fifth inning and went to third on a hustle double by Stephen Drew. Middlebrooks followed with a home run to right field.
Peavy lasted 110 pitches. Giving up five runs on eight hits and four walks over his six innings wasn’t pretty. But on a night when the Red Sox were piling up runs, it was effective.
Junichi Tazawa started the seventh inning and allowed a one-out single by Cuddyer. Lefthander Franklin Morales, in what looked like a test to gauge his readiness for the postseason roster, was called in.
He picked off Cuddyer then struck out Helton with a 95 mile-per-hour fastball.
Roy Oswalt, who should join Helton in retirement, started the eighth inning for Colorado. He loaded the bases with one out for Saltalamacchia, who singled in a run.
Middlebrooks then took an awkward swing at a slow curveball and the ball carried out to left field.
The Sox have five grand slams this month (tying a major league record for September) and nine on the season, the most in the majors.
Middlebrooks has had two slams this season. He has eight home runs and 24 RBIs in 38 games since returning from Triple A Pawtucket.
“It was kind of an up-and-down night,” said Middlebrooks, who also struck out twice. “But I can’t complain.”
Middlebrooks was 5 for 41 before the first home run.
The Sox finished 14-6 in interleague games, their best record since the 2006 team was 16-2. They outscored the National League teams, 118-54.