BALTIMORE — The first pitch at Camden Yards came at 7:06 on Saturday evening. Before three minutes had passed, the game had lost most of its significance for the Red Sox.
In Seattle, the Mariners wrapped up a victory against the Oakland Athletics and that clinched the best record in the American League for the Sox.
Game 1 of the American League Division Series will be Friday at Fenway Park against the winner of the wild-card playoff game on Wednesday. The Red Sox will have home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
The news spread quickly through the Red Sox dugout but there was still a game to play and the Orioles won it, 6-5.
The loss was quickly shoved aside by the satisfaction of knowing that the deciding game of any playoff series would take place at home. The Sox were 53-28 at Fenway this season.
“It’s an advantage for us in a lot of ways,” shortstop Stephen Drew said. “Fenway is unique in a lot of ways, whether you’re the pitcher looking at that wall or somebody playing out there.
“Playing an extra game in front of our fans is big, too. That was a goal of ours, to keep on winning until we clinched that.”
Dustin Pedroia pointed out that the Red Sox won Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at home in 2007 then lost Game 7 of the ALCS in Tampa Bay the following season.
“This sets us up nicely,” he said. “We’ve got to still go out and play well, obviously. It helps us that we get to hit last.”
The Sox are 97-64 with one game to play. They have not won 98 games since 2004.
The Sox had 14 hits, four by Daniel Nava, and carried a 5-4 lead into the bottom of the eighth inning against the Orioles. Junichi Tazawa, who had pitched a perfect seventh inning, allowed singles by Matt Wieters and Danny Valencia.
Both came on two-strike pitches when Tazawa was unable to locate his split-finger fastball.
Lefthander Franklin Morales was next out of a busy Red Sox bullpen and struck out Nick Markakis. Morales then left a curveball over the plate that Steve Pearce ripped down the left-field line for a two-run double.
Pearce had three RBIs in the game.
Tazawa has allowed six runs on 10 hits over 8⅓ innings in 11 appearances this month. He has been a solid set-up man for much of the season but is somewhat of a question mark going into the postseason.
“The last three times out, his split has shown better depth,” Sox manager John Farrell said. “Probably better suited for one inning.”
Jim Johnson finished off the Red Sox in the ninth inning for his 49th save.
Mike Napoli singled with two outs before pinch runner Quintin Berry stole second. Jonny Gomes worked the count full against Johnson and took a curveball that was called a strike by umpire Bill Welke.
The Sox are 8-10 against the Orioles this season, 12-23 since the start of the 2012 season.
“We would have liked this game to finish up a little bit differently,” Farrell said. “But to know going into the postseason that for every series that we go into with that home-field advantage, being able to play in front of Fenway fans and how comfortable and successful we’ve been at home, this is a good thing.”
Jon Lester was erratic in his final start of the regular season, giving up four runs on nine and two walks over five innings and 97 pitches. The lefthander dominated the Orioles over the first seven seasons of his career, but he was 1-2 with a 4.70 ERA in four starts this season.
Lester finished 15-8 with a 3.75 earned run average over 33 starts and a career-high 213⅓ innings. His ERA was more than a run higher last season.
The Red Sox have not announced their rotation for the postseason. But Lester has a 2.57 ERA in 13 starts since the All-Star break and is expected to be the choice for Game 1.
Lester returned to Boston after leaving the game. His wife, Farrah, is due with their second child.
Orioles starter Wei-Yin Chen didn’t allow a run until the fourth inning when singles by Gomes, Nava, and David Ross cut Baltimore’s lead to 2-1.
Pedroia had an RBI single in the fifth inning and Ross an RBI double in the sixth that knocked Chen out of the game.
Down, 4-3, the Sox scored twice in the seventh inning against reliever Josh Stinson.
Singles by Drew, Pedroia, and Gomes tied the game. Nava, facing lefthander Brian Matusz, singled to left field. Pedroia held at third base then scored when left fielder Jason Pridie bobbled the ball.
The many Red Sox fans in the crowd of 36,556 thoroughly enjoyed the game. The atmosphere stood in stark contrast to the final series of the 2011 season when the Red Sox completed their historic collapse and were eliminated by the Orioles.
The Red Sox will not use their regular lineup on Sunday for Game 162. Farrell plans to play Jacoby Ellsbury, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and David Ortiz. All three rested on Saturday.
John Lackey will start as planned, but could only pitch only a few innings.Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.