(Sports Network) - Outstanding play over the past three weeks has made the Boston Red Sox a factor once again in the American League East race. If the team's performance against the Cleveland Indians in recent years is any indication, that run could very well continue for at least a few more days.
The surging Red Sox continue a week-long road trip tonight with the first of four straight meetings with the Cleveland Indians, who'll be seeing a familiar face in the opposing uniform when they take the field.
Boston stood one game under .500 and in fourth place in the division standings on May 17, but has amassed an AL-best 14-5 record since to vault back in contention. While the Red Sox are currently tied for third in the competitive AL East, they've moved within 4 1/2 games of front-running Tampa Bay and enter tonight's play 2 1/2 back of the rival New York Yankees for second.
The Red Sox continued their strong play by pounding the wayward Baltimore Orioles by a combined 19-2 score in back-to-back tests to begin their current seven-game trek, although the club wasn't able to record the sweep in Sunday's series finale. That game wasn't decided until the 11th inning, when the Orioles' Nick Markakis came through with an RBI single to give his team a 4-3 win, Baltimore's first since Juan Samuel replaced Dave Trembley as manager.
Cesar Izturis drew a walk against Red Sox reliever Hideki Okajima (2-2) to begin the bottom of the 11th and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt before Miguel Tejada was intentionally walked. Nick Markakis then stepped to the plate and blooped a single to center to plate Izturis and end the Orioles' 10- game losing streak.
Boston trailed 3-2 entering the ninth inning but sent the contest into extra innings when Mike Cameron led off with a single, took third on a one-out base hit from Marco Scutaro, and scored on Dustin Pedroia's sacrifice fly.
Victor Martinez went 2-for-3 with a two-run homer to lead the Red Sox offensively, while starting pitcher John Lackey held Baltimore to two runs on seven hits over the first seven innings despite not factoring in the final outcome.
"Honestly, it wasn't a whole lot different than I've been pitching," said the previously-struggling Lackey. "I was able to get some outs with guys on base, most of the balls were on the ground, turned a double play or two. It was pretty nice."
Martinez has played a big part in Boston's resurgence, as the switch-hitting catcher is batting a scorching .463 (25-for-54) with five homers and 12 RBI singe May 17. The former Indian, traded by Cleveland to the Red Sox just prior to last July's deadline, will be making his first appearance at Progressive Field since the deal tonight.
Martinez will be taking swings against former battery mate Fausto Carmona, who takes the mound for the Tribe in the opener out to stop a personal three-start losing streak. The right-hander hasn't pitched that badly during the skid, having posted a 4.05 earned run average over those three games and lasting at least six innings on each occasion.
Carmona tossed his first complete game of the season his last time out, albeit in a 3-0 loss at fellow AL Central member Detroit on Wednesday. In his eight innings of work, the 26-year-old allowed only two earned runs on nine hits and did not walk a batter.
The native Dominican has gone 4-4 with a 3.53 ERA in 11 overall starts this season, but is just 1-2 with a 5.94 ERA over five regular-season appearances against the Red Sox, three of which have come in a starting role.
Carmona will go head-to-head tonight against the unpredictable Daisuke Matsuzaka, who continued his good start-bad start pattern in Wednesday's matchup with Oakland. The Japanese star limited the Athletics to three runs over 6 2/3 innings in Boston's 6-4 win, striking out seven without issuing a walk in the process.
Five days prior to that assignment, Matsuzaka walked a whopping eight batters in 4 2/3 innings and was reached for three runs in a loss to Kansas City. That poor start followed an eight-inning gem at Philadelphia on May 22 in which the right-hander did not give up a run and yielded his only hit with two out in the bottom of the eighth.
Matsuzaka has registered a troubling 6.75 ERA in three road starts this year, surrendering 14 runs (13 earned) and walking 10 over 17 1/3 total innings. He does own a 2-1 record with a 3.86 ERA in three career meetings with Cleveland, however, and fired seven shutout innings to beat the Indians in his lone regular-season outing at Progressive Field, which took place on July 24, 2007.
Boston has dominated this series over the past few years, winning 15 of 18 non-playoff matchups with the Tribe since the start of the 2007 campaign. The Red Sox have compiled a 7-2 record at Progressive Field over that span.
The AL Central cellar-dwelling Indians are coming off an encouraging series win on the road, however, taking two of three bouts from the slumping White Sox over the weekend. Chicago was able to avert a sweep with an 8-7 decision in Sunday's finale, rallying from an early four-run deficit.
Jhonny Peralta went 2-for-3 with three RBI for Cleveland and Lou Marson gave the Indians a 6-2 advantage with a three-run homer in the top of the third inning, but starter Jake Westbrook failed to hold the lead and was tagged for six runs on seven hits before exiting after 4 2/3 innings.
The White Sox went ahead on Carlos Quentin's two-run single off Jensen Lewis with two out in the bottom of the seventh, snapping a 6-6 deadlock.
"I'm disappointed that we couldn't win the ball game," said Indians manager Manny Acta. "We started the right way -- scoring six runs off their number one guy [Mark Buehrle], chasing him out after the third inning."