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Red Sox' Desperate Playoff Push Begins With Three-Game Series In Baltimore

(Sports Network) -- The Boston Red Sox enter the season's stretch run still trying to catch the top two teams in the American League East. A few matchups against the Baltimore Orioles could help them close the gap.

Boston enters tonight's opener of a three-game series at Baltimore's Camden Yards trailing the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay by seven games in both the division and Wild Card races. The Red Sox didn't help their cause by losing two of three meetings with the Rays over the weekend, including a 5-3 setback in Sunday's rubber match at Tropicana Field.

"It's not over yet, it's not over yet," said Red Sox catcher Victor Martinez after the game. "We come back Tuesday in Baltimore, [we've got to] keep playing hard, man. That's the only thing we can control, and [we'll] see what happens."

Terry Francona's squad has had plenty of success against the last-place Orioles in recent years, having gone 29-9 in the last 38 encounters between the teams. Baltimore has played the Red Sox tougher this season, however, as the two division foes have split 12 games so far in 2010 and Boston has lost four of the six bouts that have taken place in Camden Yards.

The Orioles have also been playing better baseball since the last time they've faced the Red Sox. Baltimore is an impressive 16-10 under new manager Buck Showalter, who took over the club on August 3, and returns home off a three- game weekend sweep of the fading Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on the road.

Baltimore received stellar pitching during the series, limiting the Angels to a mere one run over the three wins. After Kevin Millwood fired eight shutout innings to lead the O's to a 5-0 triumph on Saturday, Jeremy Guthrie capped off the sweep by combining with two relievers on a four-hitter as Showalter's troops edged the Angels by a 1-0 count.

Guthrie (8-13) held Anaheim to two hits over the first eight innings before running into trouble in the ninth, when Reggie Willits doubled with one out and Howie Kendrick followed with an infield single to move the potential tying run to third. Mike Gonzalez then took over and got a key strikeout of Bobby Abreu before Koji Uehara came on to induce a popup off the bat of Torii Hunter for the game's final out.

"I wasn't overthrowing and I had a nice flow," said Guthrie, who struck out five and walked just one on the day. "It's nice to come out on top with this one, especially against (Los Angeles starting pitcher) Jered Weaver."

Weaver (11-10) struck out 11 and allowed just five hits in an excellent eight- inning stint, but Baltimore was able to scratch home a run on the All-Star in the top of the seventh. Luke Scott began the frame with a single, moved to third on a Ty Wigginton double, and scored the lone run on a Matt Wieters sacrifice fly.

The Orioles played most of the series without regulars Brian Roberts (hip) and Adam Jones (shoulder), while infielder Julio Lugo left Sunday's tilt in the first inning after being hit in the head on a pickoff attempt. Jones is expected to be back in the lineup tonight, while Roberts and Lugo are considered day-to-day.

Brian Matusz will attempt to extend Baltimore's string of terrific starting pitching in tonight's opener. The highly-regarded rookie has been outstanding as well lately, having yielded only a single run over 15 innings in back-to- back wins over playoff contenders Texas and the Chicago White Sox.

After hurling eight shutout innings to best the high-powered Rangers August 19 at Camden Yards, Matusz gave up just one run and three hits over seven frames in Wednesday's 4-2 victory at Chicago. Through five starts this month, the former first-round draft pick is 3-1 with a 2.32 earned run average.

Matusz also shut down Boston's bats in a July 4 clash at Fenway Park, surrendering only two hits and striking out eight batters in seven shutout innings to earn a win. The 23-year-old is 1-0 with a 2.41 ERA over three starts against the Red Sox this season.

While Matusz has shined recently, Boston's Josh Beckett has had his share of struggles this month. The two-time All-Star enters this evening's assignment having permitted six or more runs in three of his last four outings, which has swelled his ERA to a poor 6.50 over the course of an injury-plagued season.

Beckett seemed to get back on track in his latest start, though, as he struck out seven and allowed three runs on just four hits in 6 1/3 innings to defeat lowly Seattle on Wednesday.

The right-hander does own a 6-2 record with a 3.61 ERA in 13 career starts against the Orioles and pitched well in a visit to Camden Yards back in May. Beckett worked seven innings in that game and allowed two runs while not getting a decision.

Boston will be aiming to rebound from Sunday's tough loss to the Rays, in which the Sox held a 3-1 lead after 5 1/2 innings before Tampa rallied with three runs off starter John Lackey in the bottom of the sixth.

Lackey (12-8) lasted 6 1/3 innings, but was charged with all five runs and nine hits, two of which were homers.

Yamaico Navarro, Marco Scutaro and Daniel Nava all had RBI singles in the loss, the third in four games for Boston.