With 4-0 win over Red Sox, Orioles take biggest AL East lead since 1979

Club leads New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays by 10 games with 19 to play this year

September 08, 2014|By Dan Connolly | The Baltimore Sun

BOSTON -- Orioles right-hander Miguel Gonzalez is continuing to show he deserves a postseason start while his team has seized its biggest lead in the American League East in 35 years.

Yes, 35 years -- before any member of the Orioles' current active roster was born.

With their 4-0 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Monday night, the Orioles (84-59) have taken a 10-game divisional lead for the first time since Sept. 22, 1979, a season in which the Orioles lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates in a seven-game World Series.

“We hear it, we hear what's going on, but it doesn't feel like that,” said Orioles first baseman Steve Pearce, who had two of the Orioles' seven hits Monday. “We still know we've got a job to do. And we go out there and we play. We play hard, and we let everything else take care of itself.”

These Orioles have reduced their magic number to 11 with 19 games to play and are 10 games ahead of both the idle New York Yankees and the Toronto Blue Jays, who won Monday to force a second-place tie.

“I just asked. I asked if New York won tonight, and they didn't even play, so that tells you how much we pay attention to that kind of stuff,” said reliever Tommy Hunter, who struck out three of the four Red Sox hitters he faced. “I mean, we've got a good thing going here. We're going to ride it as long as we can. Hopefully, we get a chance to play a couple of games in October.”

Gonzalez (9-7) continued his tremendous stretch on the mound and is cementing his spot in the postseason rotation. He threw 6 1/3 shutout innings versus the Red Sox to extend his scoreless streak to 15 1/3 innings.

Gonzalez has allowed just one run -- a solo homer to the Minnesota Twins' Trevor Plouffe on Aug. 29 -- in his last 22 1/3 innings over three starts. He has permitted just two runs or fewer in nine of his last 10 starts.

“Staying positive and staying aggressive every time I go out there and not do too much,” Gonzalez said about what's clicked for him recently. “Especially like today, it was a big [strike] zone. I thought we made some good plays behind me. Everybody, they did their job.”

Gonzalez was coming off the best performance of his major league career, a shutout against the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday. He allowed just four hits and one walk in nine innings in that game.

“Any time he has the type of outing he had last time, you are wondering how he is going to respond the next time out,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “But I think he answered those questions pretty well.”

On Monday, Gonzalez wasn't nearly as sharp, but still plenty good enough. He gave up two hits and a walk in the first inning before settling in to retire 15 of his next 18 Boston batters.

With one out in the seventh, Gonzalez allowed three consecutive hits and exited to scattered applause from the Orioles fans mixed into the announced 35,894 at Fenway Park. Gonzalez allowed six hits, three walks and struck out four batters.

“The way he is pitching right now, you can talk about him the way you talk about a lot of good pitchers. You better get him early,” Showalter said. “Because once he gets his feet on the ground and realizes he's carrying good stuff again, he is going to make it work for him.”

The lackluster, last-place Red Sox (63-81) couldn't take advantage of their best scoring opportunity, not even when it was gift-wrapped.

Hunter struck out both batters he faced with the bases loaded to finish the seventh, but the Orioles should have permitted a run on what would have been a passed ball by catcher Caleb Joseph. Boston's Mike Napoli inexplicably never broke from third base.

Four relievers, including Hunter, completed the club's 11th shutout of the season, tagging Boston right-hander Joe Kelly with a loss that should have been stuck on the Red Sox defense.

Kelly, whom the Red Sox acquired July 31 in the deal that sent veteran starting pitcher John Lackey to the St. Louis Cardinals, had never faced the Orioles before. After a perfect first, he ran into trouble in the second, allowing three straight singles to lead off the inning.

The last one, a base hit to center field by Pearce, scored Nelson Cruz with the Orioles' first run. Kelly escaped a big inning by striking out Joseph on a full-count fastball that the Orioles catcher thought was ball four. Kelly then induced two groundouts to end the second.

Kelly (1-2 with Boston, 3-4 overall) didn't allow another run until the sixth, when he loaded the bases with no outs on a walk, a hit batter and Pearce's second single. Kelly, who threw 120 pitches on the night, then struck out Joseph again before getting Ryan Flaherty to hit a potential double play ball to Napoli at first.

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