LEAV­ING HIS MARK

David Or­tiz hits 3 run homer to lead Bos­ton past O's, 5-2, for 5-game lead in AL East

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - peter.schmuck@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/Sch­muck­S­top

In the span of less than a week, the Bos­ton Red Sox have gained some sepa­ra­tion from the rest of their Amer­i­can League East ri­vals, thanks largely to their fourgame dis­sec­tion of the new look New York Yan­kees just be­fore ar­riv­ing at Cam­den Yards with sim­i­lar in­ten­tions.

It was their ir­re­sistible per­for­mance in that four-game sweep at Fen­way Park that gave them a three-game cush­ion over the Ori­oles com­ing into this four-game show­down and might have ex­posed what ac­tu­ally sep­a­rates these two teams as the clock runs down

on the 2016 reg­u­lar season.

Of course, it’s fair to ask whether any­thing sep­a­rates them when you con­sider that the Ori­oles and Sox en­tered Tues­day night dead even through the first 16 games of their season se­ries. That should be as good a mea­sure as any of the rel­a­tive qual­ity of both teams, es­pe­cially with the Ori­oles just hav­ing taken two of three in Bos­ton last week, but it seems ob­vi­ous that the Red Sox are bet­ter equipped to play must-win base­ball than the Ori­oles.

We’ll find out for sure over the next cou­ple of days — which likely will de­ter­mine whether the Ori­oles still have a rea­son­able shot at the divi­sion ti­tle — but it would be hard to ar­gue that the Red Sox aren’t built on a more solid foun­da­tion for late-season and post­sea­son suc­cess.

It starts with the start­ing pitch­ers. The Red Sox trot­ted out 20-game win­ner Rick Por­cello on Monday night to face rookie Dy­lan Bundy, who has been get­ting a bap­tism of fire in Au­gust and Septem­ber. They’ll also fea­ture the most highly com­pen­sated pitcher in base­ball his­tory when David Price takes the mound Thurs­day night. The Ori­oles’ much­ma­ligned ro­ta­tion has stepped up in the sec­ond half, but — let’s be hon­est — just about every night is an ad­ven­ture.

What sep­a­rated the Red Sox from the Yan­kees over the week­end, how­ever, was their ir­re­press­ible at­tack, which fea­tured dra­matic or de­flat­ing come­backs in three of the four games.

The Red Sox set the tone for the se­ries when they scored five times with two outs in the bot­tom of the ninth in­ning Thurs­day night. They also re­cov­ered from a three-run deficit Satur­day and took a chunk out of both the Yan­kees’ and the Ori­oles’ play­off out­looks when they ral­lied from four runs down Sun­day with the help of an in­ex­pli­ca­ble de­fen­sive breakdown.

The Ori­oles were at home at the same time with a chance to pile up some wins against the last-place Tampa Bay Rays, but had to strug­gle just to split that se­ries. In­stead of build­ing on one of the best home records in the ma­jor leagues, they con­tin­ued to dis­play the hit-or-miss of­fen­sive in­con­sis­tency that has been a frus­trat­ing re­al­ity since the All-Star break.

Not that any­one is sur­prised that they can pound out a dou­ble-digit run to­tal at any time and fol­low it up with an 0-for-what­ever per­for­mance with run- ners in scor­ing po­si­tion. That’s just who they are. They built this team on rock and roll, so the of­fen­sive ups and downs are in­evitable, and there’s no rea­son to think that’s go­ing to change over the fi­nal 11 games of the season.

How many other con­tend­ing teams are ex­per­i­ment­ing this week with a mi­nor league des­ig­nated hit­ter who wasn’t even among the orig­i­nal Septem­ber call-ups? The Ori­oles are in the fi­nal two weeks of the season and they’re still try­ing to find the of­fen­sive con­ti­nu­ity that base­ball op­er­a­tions chief Dan Du­quette was search­ing for dur­ing the off­sea­son.

Maybe Trey Mancini, who home­red Tues­day night, will pro­vide a spark at a time when the sup­pos­edly power-packed Ori­oles of­fense has scored two runs or fewer in six of its past nine and three runs or fewer in nine of its past 12.

Makes you won­der what this of­fense would look like right now if Dex­ter Fowler hadn’t got­ten home­sick right be­fore com­plet­ing a deal with the Ori­oles last spring.

The Red Sox, mean­while, are awash in pa­tient con­tact hit­ters and they al­ways seem to be breath­ing down the neck of the op­pos­ing pitcher. That’s why Bundy needed 99 pitches to get through five in­nings and Por­cello needed just 89 to pitch a com­plete game.

The Ori­oles have been able to play the Red Sox to a head-to-head draw (through Monday) be­cause they were a much more ex­plo­sive and op­por­tunis­tic team dur­ing the first half of the season. They need to find a way to be that again if they want to get where they want to go.

Read more from colum­nist Peter Schmuck on his blog, “The Schmuck Stops Here,” at bal­ti­more­sun.com/schmuck­blog and fol­low him @Sch­muck­s­top on Twit­ter.

KEN­NETH K. LAM/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

David Or­tiz fol­lows through on his three-run home run, which put the Red Sox ahead 5-1 in the sev­enth in­ning. The Ori­oles have not an­nounced whether they will honor the re­tir­ing des­ig­nated hit­ter, who has 30 ca­reer homers at Cam­den Yards, dur­ing the se­ries.

Peter Schmuck

LLOYD FOX/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Red Sox starter Rick Por­cello gets team­mates’ con­grat­u­la­tions after his com­plete-game vic­tory Monday night.

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