If there was a sign that times had changed between the Red Sox and the Orioles, it came during Boston’s trip to Baltimore in July.
The Red Sox, at 41-27, had the best record in the American League, riding a stretch of nine wins in 13 games.
But the Orioles were within sniffing distance, just 2½ games back in the AL East.
As they took the field for batting practice, Orioles center fielder Adam Jones made sure to find David Ortiz, his friend and his rival.
He had a message.
“This isn’t Fenway South anymore,” he said.
The Sox were more than aware.
For the better part of the past two years, the Orioles have dominated the series, wining 25 of the last 37 games. They nailed Boston’ coffin shut at the end of an unhinged 2011 season, they shoveled dirt on them as they lay dormant a year ago, and even this season, with the Sox finding new life, the Orioles found a way to continue to be a nagging pain, going 6-4 against Boston coming into a three-game series that started Tuesday night.
In fact, the Sox had watched the Orioles turn their own ballpark into Camden North, going 12-4 in Boston in their last 16 games here.
Coming off a West Coast trip and staring down the barrel of a nine-game home, starting that run with a tough division rival underscored how important the final stretch of the season will be for a team trying to preserve their division lead.
“This is going to be a hard fought series,” Sox manager John Farrell said. “We know that coming into this.”
Between Shane Victorino launching two home runs into the Monster seats and driving in a career-high seven runs, Mike Napoli launching one clean over the Wall and onto the roof of the parking deck across the street, and Felix Doubront giving up two runs on four hits in 6⅔ innings, the Sox set the tone with a 13-2 win to open the homestand.
“We know the history over the last couple of years of what has been here between the Orioles and ourselves,” Farrell said. “And I think coming out of the last series down in Baltimore, winning the series there gave us a little bit of a boost confidence-wise as a team and it carried out here again tonight.”
Early on, when control issues got to Doubront and he found himself in a bases loaded situation with no outs in the third inning, it seemed like the Orioles would again be troublesome.
With the bases loaded and Brian Roberts at the plate, Doubront had to deal with plate umpire Wally Bell’s strike zone shrinking just slightly.
He put a pair of fastballs on the fringes of the strike zone, but they weren’t good enough to pass Bell’s eye test. Doubront walked Roberts on five pitches to tie the game.
But after giving up a sacrifice fly to Manny Machado, Doubront was able to manage the crisis, getting home-run leader Chris Davis to pop to short and fanning Jones.
“He corrected it pretty quick,” Farrell said. “When things could’ve become a big inning against us, he found a way to minimize it, which he’s done a number of times. After that he settled in very well. Much better fastball command throughout the later innings. Our starters have been on a good little run here.”
Whether they could lean on an offense that came in hitting just .208 against the Orioles this season was the question.
Victorino answered it in the bottom of the inning, with Jacoby Ellsbury on base, by shooting a ball over the Monster to put the Sox ahead.
When he hit it, Victorino said, he was hoping the ball would sneak into the seats.
It barely climbed over the Wall, giving him his 100th career homer, but he was hardly done.
In the fifth, he launched another over the Covidien sign, giving him 11 homers for the season. It was his second career multihomer game.
The other was in 2008 against Arizona.
“I remember it,” Victorino said, “because it was Randy Johnson.”
If his power caught pitchers off guard, especially since he’s been hitting exclusively from the right side of the plate, it shouldn’t, according to Jonny Gomes.
“I think at this point with 11 under his belt, it’s not that sneaky anymore,” said Gomes.
With three extra-base hits, a walk, and a hit by pitch, Victorino reached base in all five plate appearances, scoring four runs and igniting the top of the order.
“He’s been playing great all year,” said Dustin Pedroia, who went 3 for 3 behind Victorino in the order. “The plays he makes in the outfield, I’ve never seen anything like it and offensively he’s driving the ball. Anytime he gets on, he’s creating a run. His speed, everything. He’s hitting the ball out of the ballpark, and he’s playing great for us.”
Orioles starter Wei-Yin Chen was knocked out of the game after just 3⅔ innings. Napoli’s solo homer in the fourth was the first of several blows that sent Chen reeling.
When Pedroia hammered a line drive to right that hopped the fence for a two-run ground rule double, Chen’s night was done but the Sox weren’t.
Gomes added a double of his own, dotting the center-field wall right at the 379-foot marker to score two more. Chen was 2-1 with a 2.96 ERA against the Sox coming in.
“Much has been made about how lefthanders have shut us down since the All-Star break, but the last three lefthanders we’ve run into, we’ve been able to come away with wins,” Farrell said.
If there was a scoring opportunity to cash in on, the Sox did, going 5 for 9 with runners in scoring position. The top of the order, which had struggled against the Orioles all season (Ellsbury, Victorino, and Pedroia were a combined 22 for 114 coming in) went 9 for 13 with eight runs and nine RBIs.
“Any time they’re getting on base at the rate they are, that’s why they’re at the top of the order,” Farrell said. “The more time they can come to the plate, the more time they can get on base and be driven in. To have that kind of on-base ahead of our middle of the order bats, it’s a good combination.”
The Red Sox still have more games remaining against the Orioles (eight) than anyone else in their AL East.
“Every game’s big from here on out,” Pedroia said. “We’re winding down towards the end. So we’re just going to try to come out, play hard. We played great tonight but it doesn’t carry over for tomorrow. So we’ve got to make sure we come out and we play well and we play the game the right way.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.