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Closing Time: Red Sox sweep Orioles, lower magic number to 5

09.22.16 at 10:28 pm ET
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Hanley Ramirez flips the ball to David Price in the first inning of the Red Sox' win Thursday night. (Evan Habeeb/USA Today Sports)

Hanley Ramirez flips the ball to David Price in the first inning of the Red Sox’ win Thursday night. (Evan Habeeb/USA Today Sports)

BALTIMORE — The Magic Number to win this division is now five.

When looking at the Red Sox schedule heading into the second half, such a reality wouldn’t seem plausible with nine games to play. But John Farrell’s team has managed to officially put any and all concerns about the September gauntlet in the rear-view mirror, completing a four-game series sweep of the Orioles with Thursday night’s 5-3 win at Camden Yards.

The Red Sox now own a seven game lead over the Orioles in the American League East, while maintaining their five-game cushion over idle Toronto. The Sox are still 1/2 game in back of Cleveland in the jostling for postseason position, with the Rangers 1 1/2 games in front with the American League’s best record.

The Sox own an eight-game winning streak, their longest stretch since 2011. Each of the victories have come against AL East clubs, a run against divisional teams the Red Sox hadn’t accomplished since 1990.

The impetus for this win was a familiar formula: solid starting pitching and timely hitting.

Earning the win on the mound for the Red Sox was starter David Price, who gave up three runs over seven innings, striking out five and walking two. Of the lefty’s 99 pitches, 72 of them were strikes.

But perhaps the most impressive statistic to come out of Price’s outing was the fact the Red Sox have now won in each of Price’s last nine starts, the longest such streak of his career with any team.

“We do everything well,” Price said. “I don’t know what our weakness is, to be honest. We do a lot of things really well. That’s what you want. There’s no over glaring weakness with our team. Everybody has really picked it up in the second half and that’s what you need.”

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Red Sox still trying to find their third baseman

09.22.16 at 7:17 pm ET
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Brock Holt

Brock Holt

BALTIMORE — A lot has fallen into place for the Red Sox over the past month.

Their starting rotation has fallen into place, as has the roles in the bullpen. The position players have remained relatively injury free while continuing to present one of the majors’ best offenses. And, most importantly, the Red Sox have won more games in September than any other team.

But there is one piece of the puzzle that Red Sox manager John Farrell would like to firm up in the last 10 games of the regular season — third base.

“That’s a position, we were very candid, that’s why [Yoan] Moncada came here,” Farrell said. “We’re looking for production at third base to continue to climb. Guys are here that have done it. It’s a spot that can further be grabbed. We don’t ever want to just hand a spot just because you hit right-handed or left-handed.”

Since the beginning of the month, Aaron Hill has had the most offensive production among the third basemen, hitting .350 (7-for-20), with Travis Shaw coming in at .265 (13-for-49). Moncada, of course, had gotten the first crack at winning playing time before going into the tailspin that currently has him striking out in nine straight plate appearances.

The wild-card in the equation might be Brock Holt, who has only gotten one start at third in Sept. With Andrew Benintendi back and playing in left field against right-handers, third base might represent the best opportunity to get the lefty-hitting utility man in the lineup.

“All of our guys are recognizing that how guys perform is not only important for us but to them and because third base has been a little bit unsettled this year,” Farrell said. “Travis was the majority of the year, obviously. But over the last month or so, six weeks, it’s been a little bit more unsettled just because of the overall production.”

Thursday’s Red Sox-Orioles matchups: David Price vs. Chris Tillman

09.22.16 at 8:27 am ET
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David Price

David Price

Looking to complete a four-game sweep of the Orioles, the Red Sox will send out David Price opposite right-hander Chris Tillman in Thursday night’s series finale.

Price is 16-8 with 3.91 ERA and a 1.176 WHIP in 32 starts. In six innings of work on Saturday, Price surrendered five runs, nine hits and no walks while recording nine strikeouts in a 6-5 win over the Yankees. The southpaw didn’t factor in the decision, which ended his streak of wins in seven straight outings.

In his career against the Orioles, Price is 10-5 with a 2.83 ERA and a 1.112 WHIP in 23 starts. This season against the O’s, he is 2-1 with a 3.67 ERA and a 0.667 WHIP in four starts. His last outing vs. Baltimore was on Aug. 17. In a rain-shortened game, he pitched six innings, giving up one run, four hits and no walks with four strikeouts in an 8-1 Sox win.

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Read More: Chris Tillman, David Price,

Story behind Andrew Benintendi’s Michael Jackson dance

09.21.16 at 11:12 pm ET
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BALTIMORE — Andrew Benintendi wanted to be prepared.

So while waiting for his opportunity to star in the Red Sox’ outfielders’ celebratory victory dance, Benintendi did his due diligence.

“Oh, yeah. All the time,” said Benintendi when asked if he practiced his moves. “I’m always practicing.”

It paid off.

After hitting Wednesday night’s decisive three-run homer in a 5-1 win over the Orioles, all eyes — and fake movie cameras — turned to Benintendi after the final out. With Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. “rolling,” the rookie broke out a solid rendition of Michael Jackson’s strut, kick, and tippy-toes dance made famous by the video for “Billie Jean.”

“I grew up watching him on YouTube, his dances,” Benintendi said. “I thought it would be quick enough to do out there. Just wanted to add a little fun to that.”

Even though the maneuver had to follow up what has become Bradley Jr.’s popular ski jump, Benintendi’s execution seemed to be on point.

How would he grade himself?

“I’ll have to watch the video,” he said with a laugh.

Read More: Andrew Benintendi, Michael Jackson, Red Sox, Win dance repeat

Closing Time: Andrew Benintendi homers, Red Sox capitalize on error in win over Orioles

09.21.16 at 10:15 pm ET
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Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia (15) soars over Baltimore's Jonathan Schoop (on Wednesday. (Evan Habeeb/USA Today Sports)

Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia (15) soars over Baltimore’s Jonathan Schoop (on Wednesday. (Evan Habeeb/USA Today Sports)

Suddenly, the Magic Number is six. Can anyone stop the Red Sox?

Saving their best baseball for the absolute right time of the year, the Red Sox capitalized on a huge error by Orioles first baseman Chris Davis to score five runs in the sixth, erase a 1-0 deficit, and cruise to a 5-1 victory.

The team’s seventh straight win left it on the cusp of completing its second straight four-game sweep, coming on the heels of four wins over the Yankees at Fenway Park. The seven-game winning streak is a season-high.

This one was in the balance until the sixth, when Sandy Leon grounded to Davis with the bases loaded and two outs. Instead of under-handing to pitcher Brad Brach covering, Davis threw a seed that eluded the pitcher, allowing two runs to score.

One pitch later, rookie Andrew Benintendi drilled a three-run homer over the right field fence to give the Red Sox a comfortable lead they would not relinquish.

Right-hander Clay Buchholz, making a bid for the final spot in the postseason rotation, stymied the O’s for seven innings, allowing three hits and one run, striking out four. The only Orioles run came on an Adam Jones sacrifice fly in the third. Otherwise, Buchholz cruised while improving to 8-10 and lowering his ERA to 5.00.

Coupled with Toronto’s loss in Seattle, the Red Sox opened a five-game lead over the Blue Jays and six games over the Orioles in the AL East. Their magic number now stands at six with 10 games to play, which should allow manager John Farrell to rest regulars down the stretch.

The Red Sox will try to complete the sweep on Thursday.

Closing Time note

The Red Sox have won Clay Buchholz’s last five starts. He’s 4-0 with a 3.09 ERA in his last six.

Read More: Andrew Benintendi, Clay Buchholz, Orioles, Red Sox

It hasn’t been easy being Yoan Moncada of late

09.21.16 at 8:43 pm ET
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Yoan Moncada has had to watch and learn this month. (Jake Roth/USA Today Sports)

Yoan Moncada has had to watch and learn this month. (Jake Roth/USA Today Sports)

BALTIMORE — Remember Yoan Moncada?

The last time we saw the rookie was during a Sept. 12, blowout victory over the Orioles which saw him get one at-bat to extend his streaking of striking out to nine straight plate appearances.

And it has now been three weeks since John Farrell proclaimed Moncada would be getting all the starts at third base against right-handed pitching. It was a strategy that lasted four games.

Now Moncada is left simply watching, a reality that doesn’t figure to be changing any time soon.

“I’m learning a lot. I haven’t been playing, but I’m just watching and learning as much as I can,” Moncada said through translator Daveson Perez. “It’s been a little hard just because I’ve been so used to playing. It’s not my call. It’s not my decision.”

Without a regular spot at third base, there simply doesn’t appear to be much opportunities for Moncada to find playing time in the middle of this pennant race. Even the pinch-running role seems to be a non-starter for the rookie, who has had multiple lapses on the basepaths. (He was picked off in Oakland, and forget the number of outs in Toronto.)

“I know it’s a tough situation for him to be in,” Farrell said. “You know you sit for six seven eight days and then all of a sudden you’re finding yourself in a major league game. All those experiences are going to be beneficial to him.

“If the opportunities present itself, we will. Nothing’s taken for granted here. And you know, seven days or so ago, winning is the precedent right now. Development is secondary.”

There does seem to be some payoff for Moncada during his time with the Red Sox. According to the infielder, the live the life of a major leaguer, even on the bench, has served a valuable purpose.

“The thing I’ve learned the most is the mental part of the game since being up here,” said Moncada, who is still slated to play in the Arizona Fall League next month. “I’ve learned you have to be mentally sharp and on top of that just continue the same routine every day, getting your early work in and maintaining your routine, being consistent.

“This has been a blessing just being here in the big leagues. It’s something I’ve always dreamed up. I’m just trying to pick up as much as I can for next year.”

Red Sox notes: Still window for Steven Wright’s return; John Farrell’s high praise for Koji Uehara;

09.21.16 at 7:45 pm ET
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Steven Wright

Steven Wright

BALTIMORE — The Red Sox aren’t ruling out a Steven Wright return.

The knuckleballer continued his road back from his right shoulder injury Wednesday, throwing out to 120 feet while working out at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Fla.

The next step will be to get to the point where a bullpen session is a reality when joining the Red Sox in St. Petersburg, Fla. over the weekend. And even though that would leave just one week in the regular season, Red Sox manager John Farrell said having Wright ready just in case wouldn’t be out of the question.

“As long as he can get into his normal arm slot, and pitch without restriction, we feel like he’ll be able to execute his knuckleball as he did,” said Farrell of Wright, who hasn’t pitched since Aug. 31. “That’s what he’s continued to work at, to get to this point.”

According to Farrell, one of things helping keep the window open for Wright is the pitch that the 32-year-old relies on.

“If he was a traditional or conventional pitcher, I don’t know there’d be enough time to buildup arm strength,” the manager said. “I think the fact that he is a knuckleball pitcher gives us the ability to entertain this. Nothing is a given at this point and we don’t want to take anything for granted with Steven and his health but the fact that it’s the pitch that he throws it gives you more of a possibility.”

– Wondering which pitcher offers the most relaxation for Farrell when they’re on the mound? The manager offered some insight.

“Take away the age or take away the stuff, or the raw stuff as one might look at a radar gun, you look at the most comfortable inning on the field when Koji’s on the mound,” he said. “That’s the way he’s pitched for the vast majority of his time in Boston.”

Red Sox lineup: Dustin Pedroia returns after day off, Hanley Ramirez sits

09.21.16 at 3:34 pm ET
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Dustin Pedroia

Dustin Pedroia

BALTIMORE — Dustin Pedroia said he would be back in the Red Sox lineup for Wednesday night’s game, and he was true to his word.

After missing Tuesday night’s Red Sox win with a sore left knee, Pedroia returns to leadoff against the Orioles and their righty starter, Ubaldo Jimenez.

Not in the starting lineup is Hanley Ramirez, with Travis Shaw playing first base.

“The ball off his foot last night, a little bit of the back of his shoulder is nagging a little bit,” Farrell said of Ramirez’s nagging ailments. “After we talked in between at-bats on a couple of occasions last night, felt like today was the day to get him off his feet.”

Here is the Red Sox’ lineup in the third of the four-game set at Camden Yards with Clay Buchholz on the mound for the visitors:

Dustin Pedroia 2B
Xander Bogaerts SS
David Ortiz DH
Mookie Betts RF
Travis Shaw 1B
Aaron Hill 3B
Jackie Bradley Jr. CF
Sandy Leon C
Andrew Benintendi LF

For all the matchups, click here.

Photos from Red Sox’ 6-game winning streak

09.21.16 at 1:53 pm ET
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The Red Sox extended their winning streak to six games with a 5-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday. Check out some photos from the streak here.

Chris Young, Jackie Bradley and Mookie Betts celebrate the Red Sox' sixth straight win. (Evan Habeeb/USA Today Sports)

Chris Young, Jackie Bradley and Mookie Betts celebrate the Red Sox’ sixth straight win. (Evan Habeeb/USA Today Sports)

For Red Sox, there’s no better place than Camden Yards clubhouse to remember no lead in standings is safe

09.21.16 at 10:24 am ET
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Clay Buchholz and David Price each recently reflected on one of the wildest days in big league history, Sept. 28, 2011. (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

Clay Buchholz and David Price each recently reflected on one of the wildest days in big league history, Sept. 28, 2011. (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

BALTIMORE — As swimmingly as things are going for the Red Sox at Camden Yards right now, this visitors clubhouse should offer some sort of reality check.

It was here, after all, that the Red Sox were forced to live out one of the most painful final days of the regular season in major league history. That would have been Sept. 28, 2011, when the greatest collapse ever seen was punctuated with a Orioles walk off win, coupled a few minutes later by the Rays’ Evan Longoria sending his team to the postseason with a 12th-inning homer.

“Regardless of how long you’ve been around you can still learn things from what the game presents you. That was a tough one to swallow,” said Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz. “After [the Orioles] walked us off we walked back in, went into the food room thinking were just going to go to Tampa for the playoff game and they hit the home run.

“In this clubhouse, that’s the signature bad moment.”

There are 11 games left in the regular season, with the Red Sox carrying a four-game lead in the American League East over the Blue Jays, and a five-game advantage in front of the Orioles. They also have a 6 1/2-game cushion in the Wild Card chase.

Still, a lot can happen.

Players from both sides of the equation that day five years ago will never forget the lessons learned that September.

“It was nuts,” said Red Sox pitcher David Price, whose Rays team was nine games in back of the Sox on Sept. 3, 2011 before finally overtaking them that final day. “It all happened so fast, like 15 or 20 minutes. It was crazy.

“When [Robert] Andino hit that to left [giving the Orioles their 4-3 win over the Red Sox] I ran down the dugout and told them, ‘The Red Sox lost! Let’s go! Do something good.’ And then [Longoria] hits a home run in the landing zone. The lowest of low to the highest of highs. That was very special.”

“We learned not to take anything for granted,” Buchholz said. “I think everybody at one point was pretty content on where we were at, and that didn’t end up working out. You’ve got to play the whole season to get to the point where you can move on into October. But you can’t move forward without taking care of the regular season games first regardless of how high in the standings you are.

“I don’t think anybody wants to go through that again. We’ve got to take care of business.”

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