The Baltimore Orioles’ outstanding bullpen is a big reason they’re vying for the AL East lead. And Jim Johnson is the biggest reason for the success of that bullpen.
Johnson set a franchise record with his major league-leading 46th save and the Orioles beat the Boston Red Sox 4-2 on Friday night to remain one game behind the first-place New York Yankees.
The record means ”that we’re winning and we’re having a good season,” he said. ”That’s all it really means right now.”
Baltimore closers hadn’t had much of a shot at the record of 45 set by Randy Myers in 1997, the last time the Orioles finished the season with a winning record. They had no more than 69 wins in any of the last four years. But now they’re 86-64 with 12 games left.
”When you talk about the history of the Orioles, you’ve got everybody’s attention. That’s pretty long and deep,” manager Buck Showalter said of Johnson’s record, but ”Jimmy’s got other goals in mind.”
Those goals are winning playoff games and the Orioles are in good shape to have a chance. They can reach the postseason by winning the division or with a wild-card berth. They lead Oakland by one game for the first AL wild-card spot after the Athletics lost to the New York Yankees 2-1 in 10 innings.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, are 68-84 and assured of their first losing season since 1997.
”We were even seeing for the first time … Baltimore fans in Boston,” Johnson said. ”I’ve never seen that before, so it’s pretty cool how things are changing.”
Matt Wieters drove in three runs and was behind the plate for Johnson’s record-setting save.
”Both are nice,” he said. ”It took me a second to click in. I think when I was walking to the mound I realized he just broke the Orioles save record so that’s pretty cool to get to catch that one.”
Jon Lester (9-13) lost for the first time in his 21 career starts against the Orioles. He had been 14-0, the longest winning streak against the Orioles franchise for a pitcher at the start of his career since at least 1901. It had been the longest current winning streak by an active pitcher against any team. But he’s 0-1 in his last four starts against them, all Orioles victories.
”It was bound to happen sometime,” Lester said. ”They’re playing good this year. They’ve always had a good offense. They’re just putting everything else together.”
Miguel Gonzalez (7-4) allowed two runs on seven hits with three strikeouts and one walk in 6 1-3 innings as the Orioles improved to 6-1 this season at Fenway Park. They lead the AL with 44 wins on the road.
”They’ve got some home run hitters in the middle of the lineup and their bullpen’s been `shut down.’ `’ Boston manager Bobby Valentine said.
The score was tied 2-2 after five innings before the Orioles went ahead with two runs in the sixth.
Adam Jones walked with one out and scored on a double by Wieters. A wild pitch by Lester sent Wieters to third and Mark Reynolds drove him in with a single. Reynolds went 2 for 4 and is 15 for 34 in 10 games against Boston this year.
”Every time they scored we had an answer, it seemed like,” Showalter said, ”and Matt was in the middle of that.”
Baltimore second baseman Robert Andino left the game in the ninth after being hit in the left ear flap by a fastball from Mark Melancon. He was scheduled to have a CAT scan.
The Red Sox took a 1-0 lead in the third on doubles by Daniel Nava and Pedro Ciriaco. Then Wieters got his first big hit of the night in the fourth with a two-run single with no outs. It drove in J.J. Hardy, who had singled, and Jones, who had doubled.
”He’s done a good job in the past against me, getting the barrel of the bat on those cutters down and in,” Lester said of Wieters.
Boston tied it in the fifth when Gonzalez retired the first two batters then allowed consecutive singles by Ciriaco, Scott Podsednik and Dustin Pedroia, who snapped an 0 for 18 slump.
The game was the start of the Red Sox’s final homestand of a disappointing season. But they could have an impact on the postseason race with two home games each against Baltimore and Tampa Bay before they finish with three games at Baltimore and three at New York.
NOTES: The Orioles activated DH Jim Thome and LHP Troy Patton from the 15-day disabled list. … The Red Sox recalled 3B Danny Valencia and RHPs Pedro Beato and Zach Stewart from Triple-A Pawtucket. … Former pro wrestler George ”The Animal” Steele, who wrestled at Fenway Park on June 28, 1969, threw out one of the ceremonial first pitches. Known for biting the turnbuckle when he wrestled, he appeared to bite the ball before throwing. The other ceremonial pitch was thrown by Jim Roosevelt Jr., grandson of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who gave his final campaign speech at Fenway on Nov. 4, 1944. … Randy Wolf (2-0) is scheduled to pitch for the Orioles against Aaron Cook (4-10) on Saturday in the second game of the three-game series.