Baltimore is the site of some extremely unpleasant memories for the Red Sox over the past two Septembers. There should be no such danger this time around, as the Sox and Orioles open a regular season-ending three-game set on Friday night at Camden Yards.
In 2011, Boston finished an epic September collapse by dropping two of three there, including a walk-off loss in the finale that kept them from the postseason. Last year's 93-loss campaign featured a sweep there during the final, winless road trip.
This edition of the Red Sox faces no such issues, having already clinched the American League East title. Their October ticket is punched for the first time since 2009, and they have won their most games (96) since '07.
The only suspense remaining is whether they can earn the AL's best record, thereby locking up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Boston enters the last three regular-season games with a two-game advantage over the Athletics in that race.
Clay Buchholz will continue the drive for the No. 1 seed when he faces off against Scott Feldman and the Orioles in the series opener.
This will be Buchholz's fourth start since missing three months with a bursa sac injury in his right shoulder. The right-hander, who is 11-1 with a 1.60 ERA, has held the opposition to two earned runs over 17 innings since his return. On the other hand, he sports only an 11-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
A loss to the Blue Jays on Saturday saw Buchholz's pitch count climb to 106, as he gave up three runs (two earned) over six innings. Catcher David Ross saw some encouraging signs along the way.
"The three runs doesn't dictate how he pitched tonight," Ross said afterward. "His pitches were sharper. I thought he had better fastball command. His sinker was really sinking. We talked a lot before the game and I think he found some mechanical issues, or some sharper things in the bullpen that made the ball really move."
Feldman (12-11) is set to make his 15th start for the Orioles, equaling his total with the Cubs before a midseason trade. The righty has been a model of consistency, with a 3.51 ERA overall, including a 3.57 mark with Baltimore.
Feldman has held the opposition to three runs or fewer in eight consecutive outings, including on Sunday at Tampa Bay. He struck out seven over 6 1/3 innings in that one.
"Scotty's been solid," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "He's very quietly put together another good year. He's a pro. Tough guy, knows how to pitch, going to keep you in the game. I like him."
Red Sox: Napoli coming back
Mike Napoli was out of the lineup on Wednesday against the Rockies, his fourth straight game on the bench since the Red Sox clinched the division. The first baseman has been dealing with plantar fasciitis throughout the second half, but he is expected to play on Friday.
"Yeah, we're hopeful that it has the same results the last break provided. He came back and swung the bat like he did for the first five or six weeks of the season," manager John Farrell said. "When he's in those stretches, we're a completely different offensive team. With Jacoby [Ellsbury] at the top and Mike at the middle of it, it creates a more powerful lineup, there's no doubt."
Orioles: Flaherty breaks out
Ryan Flaherty came into Wednesday's game against the Blue Jays on an 0-for-9 slide and was hitting .210 with two home runs and four RBIs in 25 games since July 5. He equaled that power production in one game.
Flaherty, playing third base with Manny Machado out with a knee injury, went 2-for-2 with a walk and two homers, including a blast out to Eutaw Street behind right field. It was second career multi-homer game and second career game with at least four RBIs.
The performance didn't result in a start on Thursday. Flaherty did appear as a pinch-hitter and struck out.
• The Orioles lead the season series 9-7, including 4-3 at home. They took two of three earlier this month at Fenway Park.
• Baltimore has won its last two since losing six in a row to fall out of postseason contention.
• Buchholz tossed seven scoreless innings against the Orioles on April 8, giving up three hits.
• Feldman has allowed five runs on eight hits and eight walks in 10 innings against the Red Sox this season.