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The Morning After: Ellsbury Keys Sweep as Yanks, O's Close in on Jays

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Even when the Red Sox win these days, it seems to be full of struggle, strain, and stress. In order to snap a 10-game losing streak, they had to overcome a five-run deficit. Sustaining the winning streak that followed required back-to-back walkoffs. Then the two triumphs they managed during the recent nine-game road swing came only after David Ortiz slugged a decisive ninth-inning homer and the pitching staff protected a 1-0 nail-biter.

So if thought it was nice to relax a little bit Thursday, and enjoy a rather routine victory for your Sox, you weren't alone.

"We were just talking about that," Boston catcher David Ross said after his team's 5-2 defeat of Cleveland. "It's nice to win a game, just a clean game. We had some pretty clean baseball.

"The more pressure we put on ourselves -- we're not very good players when we put too much pressure on ourselves to do too much -- everyone's got to be themselves. And that's what you saw tonight," he continued. "A nice clean baseball game we played."

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The win was the Sox' sixth straight at Fenway Park, good for the club's longest home winning streak in more than a year. But how much good did it do them in terms of the uphill climb they face in the American League. Let's take a look at the action elsewhere.

IN THE DIVISION

Orioles 4, Blue Jays 2: After winning 15 of 17 to seize command of the East, Toronto has now lost five of its last six -- and in those defeats has totaled just four runs. Mark Buehrle (10-3) lost his second straight start, getting outpitched by young righty Kevin Gausman and a Baltimore bullpen that's becoming a strength again now that Zach Britton and his 0.78 ERA seem to have taken hold of the closer's role. With three more games coming up at Camden Yards this weekend, the O's are just 3.5 back of the division lead.
Toronto is 8 games up on Boston; Baltimore, 4.5 up.

Yankees 6, Mariners 3: Red Sox fans know just how good Jacoby Ellsbury can be when he's hot at the plate -- and Yankees fans are getting a chance to relate. The center fielder blasted his fourth homer of the season in the first inning, giving the Bombers a lead they wouldn't relinquish and extending his personal hitting streak to 16 straight games. He also scored twice, as did Derek Jeter, who added three hits in support of rookie Chase Whitley as New York swept a three-game set that helped both the Yankees and Orioles leapfrog the Mariners into a tie for the second wild-card berth.
The Yankees are 4.5 games up on Boston; Seattle, 4 up.

The Rays were off Thursday. Tampa Bay is 5.5 games behind Boston.

AROUND THE AL

Astros 5, Diamondbacks 4, 10 inn. Break up the Astros. Houston has now won six of eight and 14 of 19 since its horrific start, the latest victory coming when Chris Carter jacked his third home in two nights. Hotshot rookie Jonathan Singleton homered for the third time in his 10-day career, good for a long ball every 13.3 at-bats.
Houston is (technically) even with Boston.

Tigers 4, White Sox 0: It's been a big week for the AL's elite pitchers proving their durability and dominance. A day after Yu Darvish pitched his first complete game, Max Scherzer finished what he started for the first time ever, firing a three-hit masterpiece that featured eight strikeouts and came backed by the 16th homer of the year from former Red Sox Victor Martinez, who is also hitting .329. Chris Sale allowed only one run and no walks while striking out 10 over seven innings, but was still pinned with his first loss of the year.
Detroit is 6 games up on Boston; Chicago, 2.5 up.

NATIONAL LEAGUE NOTABLES

Adrian Gonzalez is on pace for career worsts in batting average (.246), OBP (.321), and OPS (.777) after going 0-for-4 in the Dodgers' 4-1 loss to the Reds. Hanley Ramirez sat a second straight game with a sore right shoulder in that one ... The issue of batters hitting catchers while finishing a swing has arisen a couple of times with the Red Sox recently, first when David Ortiz hit Detroit's Alex Avila, then when Baltimore's Manny Machado hit A.J. Pierzynski, and Thursday it led to four ejections in Colorado. Corey Dickerson's long back swing knocked Gerald Laird in the facemask and out of the game, prompting the Braves to plunk Dickerson, and the Rockies to retaliate on Evan Gattis. Colorado got the last blow by winning, 10-3 ... Tim Hudson allowed only an unearned run over seven innings to lower his ERA to 1.81 in the Giants' 7-1 thumping of the Nationals ... The Phillies beat the Padres, 7-3 ... Emilio Bonifacio, the versatile Cub whose versatility could make him an appealing trade target, left Chicago's 4-0 loss to Pittsburgh with a rib cage injury in the first inning ... The reeling Mets have lost eight of nine after the Brewers scored four runs in the 13th to claim a 5-1 victory.

10 YEARS AGO TODAY ...

Dave Roberts led off at Fenway -- for the Dodgers, some seven weeks before he'd be traded to Boston, and some four months before his legs would make him a legend in the city. Pedro Martinez delivered seven solid innings to out-pitch former teammate Hideo Nomo, and Pokey Reese drove home the winning runs with a two-run double in the fourth, but afterward the buzz was about what Reese did with his glove.

With two outs and two on in the seventh, Roberts hit a liner that appeared ticketed for the right-center field gap -- "Gabe [Kapler] and I started diving for that ball," center fielder Johnny Damon said -- but from nowhere Boston's 5-foot-11 second baseman skied to snag it, shocking everyone in the park that night, leaving a memorably still vivid to some a decade later, and effectively sealing a 4-1 Sox win. At 37-25, the club remained 3.5 games out in the East.