BOSTON -- The public address announcer had already gone through the lineups and the first strains of the national anthem were about to follow when Boston's scheduled No. 4 hitter, first baseman Kevin Youkilis, was scratched with back spasms.
There was only one place for manager Terry Francona to turn: Dustin Pedroia.
The diminutive second baseman filled in at cleanup for the third time in four games and delivered a career high-tying five RBI on Tuesday night to lead Boston to a 14-2 victory over the struggling Baltimore Orioles.
"It was a quick move tonight," Francona said. "We put Petey in the four-hole and he just continues to get hits."
Pedroia had a double, a homer and a single, and is batting .600 (18-for-30) over the last seven games to raise his AL-leading average to .330. A year after hitting eight homers and winning the AL Rookie of the Year award, Pedroia has 16 homers for the season.
The numbers are typical of a cleanup hitter, but not the kind that were expected from a feisty, 5-foot-9 second baseman. But with Youkilis ailing, Pedroia has gone 7-for-12 while providing protection for slugger David Ortiz.
"It's funny to see him come up after Ortiz, a big burly guy," teammate Mark Kotsay said.
Ortiz and Coco Crisp also had three hits on Tuesday, and Ortiz added four RBI as the Red Sox won for the 10th time in 14 games. Boston cut its deficit in the AL East to four games behind Tampa Bay, which lost 7-2 to the New York Yankees; the Red Sox lead the wild-card by four games.
Jon Lester (13-5) allowed one run and six hits, striking out five and walking four in five innings.
Radhames Liz, who was called up from Triple-A Norfolk before the game, gave up nine runs and nine hits in 3 1/3 innings and dropped to 5-4. The Orioles lost for the 10th time in 11 games. Baltimore pitchers have allowed 55 runs and 42 walks in their last five games, all losses.
"You hope you get it out of your system," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "You've hit rock bottom and you would think that sooner or later it's going to turn for you. That's the only approach I think you can take."
Pedroia hit .374 in August, scoring 33 runs in the month and convincing Red Sox fans that he should be the AL MVP. Pedroia is doing his best to tune out the "MVP!" chants when he is in the batter's box.
"I just come to the park and do the same thing I've done all year," he said.
Ortiz hit a two-run double in the third, and Pedroia followed with a sacrifice fly that made it 4-0. With the bases loaded in the fifth, Ortiz bounced one over the right-field wall for another two runs, chasing Liz, and Pedroia followed with a three-run homer off Fernando Cabrera.
Pedroia popped up with the bases loaded in the fifth, but he drove in another run in the seventh with a double to match his career high for RBI.
The Orioles scratched Wednesday's starter Jeremy Guthrie due to arm fatigue. Lance Cormier will replace him. ... Youkilis was replaced at 1B by Jeff Bailey. ... RHP RHP Bartolo Colon will pitch a rehab assignment in the minors on Saturday and be penciled in for one of Boston's game in a doubleheader on Sept. 13. ... The game was the 454th consecutive sellout at Fenway Park, one short of the major league record set by Cleveland from 1995-2001. ... The Orioles also called up RHPs Bob McCrory and Kam Mickolio from Norfolk before the game. ... 3B Melvin Mora missed his fourth consecutive game with a strained left hamstring. ... The Red Sox moved to a season-high 24 games over .500.