Lester pitched into the seventh inning to win his sixth straight decision, and the Boston Red Sox feasted on the Orioles bullpen in an 11-5 victory Saturday night.
Josh Reddick, J.D. Drew and Brian Anderson homered for the Red Sox, whose magic number to clinch the AL wild card dipped below double figures. Any number of Boston victories or Texas defeats totaling nine will put the Red Sox in the playoffs.
Lester (14-7) improved to 6-0 in 11 starts since July 19 despite giving up three runs and 10 hits -- at least one every inning. He is 10-0 lifetime against Baltimore, including 4-0 with a 1.65 ERA this season.
"I didn't think he had his best stuff," Boston manager Terry Francona said, "but on a night when he didn't, he pitched pretty good."
"Pretty good" aren't words usually used to describe Lester, especially when he's going up against the Orioles.
"It wasn't necessarily the seven innings or the three runs, it was the 10 hits. And I was behind quite a bit. You can't do that," the left-hander said. "We won. You got to look at it that way. I wasn't at my best, but I kept my team in the ball game and they were able to score runs late."
Lester and David Hernandez dueled for six innings before Boston broke it open with a three-run seventh. Dustin Pedroia singled off Matt Albers (2-6), stole second and scored on a single by Kevin Youkilis for a 4-3 lead. David Ortiz greeted Alberto Castillo with a double, and Drew and Mike Lowell followed with RBI singles.
The Red Sox added five unearned runs in the eighth against Bob McCrory. After first baseman Ty Wigginton let a grounder zip through his legs, Ortiz hit a sacrifice fly, Drew homered with two on and Anderson followed with a solo shot.
Hernandez gave up seven hits, three walks and a homer in six innings.
"We were encouraged by how Hernandez threw tonight. That was his best outing in a while," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "The game got out of hand after he left."
Boston has won seven straight over the Orioles and is 15-2 against Baltimore this season. The Red Sox also clinched their 11th straight series win over the AL East-cellar dwellers.
After watching the Orioles score only one run in their previous two games, Trembley shuffled the lineup, moving rookie Matt Wieters to the No. 3 spot for the first time and shifting Brian Roberts back to the top of the order. The move worked: Roberts hit his league-leading 53rd double and scored a run, and Wieters had three hits and an RBI.
The first three batters to face Lester all got hits -- a double by Roberts, a single by Cesar Izturis and an RBI single by Wieters. The uprising ended when Mora bounced into a double play.
"It's a possible big inning when you let that happen," Lester said, "so you try to minimize the damage and not let the game get out of reach."
Reddick, starting in place of an ailing Jason Bay, homered in the second after a double by Drew. Bay was scratched from the lineup after experiencing flulike symptoms.
Wigginton led off the bottom half with his first homer since Aug. 2, and Mora gave the Orioles a 3-2 lead in the fourth with his eighth home run.
Boston pulled even in the sixth when Ortiz doubled and scored on a single by Lowell.
- Boston's Victor Martinez extended his hitting streak to a career-high 18 games. Pedroia has hit in 11 straight.
- Hernandez has given up 20 homers in his last 10 starts.
- Red Sox starters have allowed three runs or fewer in 12 straight games.
- Lester surrendered two homers after yielding only four in his previous 15 starts.