After spending the past three seasons painfully watching the postseason from the outside, the Red Sox punched their playoff ticket.
A 3-1 win over an Orioles team that dealt the Red Sox their share of September heartbreak the past two years guaranteed the Sox their first trip to the postseason since 2009.
Taking a no-hitter into the seventh, John Lackey put the Sox on his back in the finale of their three-game set with Os, giving up just one run on two hits in a complete game.
His bid for a no-hitter was broken up one out into the seventh when Adam Jones blasted a pitch well over the Monster to the parking lot across Lansdowne. In the end, though, Lackey got Jones to fly out to right field to seal the win and their playoff berth. The Sox spilled out of the dugout in a celebration that was muted but still apparent.
The Sox have now won 24 more games than they did a year ago, when they finished last in the American League East. Their next target is the division crown, which they haven’t won since 2007.
Top of the seventh, Red Sox 3, Orioles 1: It would have been hard to pick the most likely suspect to break up John Lackey’s no hitter.
Manny Machado was 6 for 11 against Lackey coming in. Chris Davis, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts all had three hits each against him.
But the most likely hitter to break up the no-no with a bang was easily Jones.
Jones had three hits against Lackey all season. Two of them were homers.
He added to both totals in the seventh, taking Lackey for a ride to the parking deck across Lansdowne.
Lackey got an ovation from the crowd for retiring 19 of the first 21 he faced.
Jones, who took Lackey deep twice at Camden Yards in July, took a second to admired his work after smacking his 32d homer of the season.
Lackey, probably as upset about giving up the no-hitter as he was about being shown up, shot him an angry look as he rounded the bases.
End of the fifth, Red Sox 3, Orioles 0: Lackey made quick work of the Orioles, keeping his no-hitter in tact by getting Nick Markakis to fly out to center, Danny Valencia to wave at a cutter and Matt Wieters to bound on back to the mound.
He isn’t wasting any pitches either. He only needed 13 that inning and he’s only thrown 62 all night.
End of the fourth, Red Sox 3, Orioles 0: Make that 12 for Lackey, after sitting down Manny Machado Chris Davis and Adam Jones on seven pitches.
Meanwhile, Jackie Bradley came up with a nice piece of two-strike hitting for a one-out single.
He was ultimately left stranded, but this is his first multi-hit game since June 1.
End of the third, Red Sox 3, Orioles 0: Just putting it out there: John Lackey’s got a ‘0’ in the hits allowed column.
The nine-out breakdown: Four strikeouts, three ground balls, two pop ups. Considering he’s only thrown 35 pitches, the strike outs are even more impressive.
All of them have come on his fastball, which so far has topped out at 94-miles per hour.
The Orioles’ only baserunner so far was Brian Roberts, who worked a six-pitch walk.
End of the second, Red Sox 3, Orioles 0: Welp. So much for not cashing in. The Sox tagged Tillman for three runs on four hits to take the early lead.
It got started with Jarrod Saltalamachia’s leadoff double (he practically left skid marks trying around second base trying to stop himself from taking three) and got worse for Tillman from there.
After striking out Will Middlebrook, he got rocked by Stephen Drew, who shot one to left-center for his 13th homer of the season.
Jackie Bradley Jr., who had been 0 for his past 11 and 3 for 24 since being called up earlier this month, snapped out of his funk and laced a double to left to keep things going and scored a batter later on Dustin Pedroia’s single.
Orioles bullpen coach Bill Castro came to visit Tillman at the mound, with good reason. For a pitcher who had given up four runs to the Sox all season, a three-run inning is reason to be concerned.
Here’s a look at Tillman’s starts against the Sox this season.
End of the first, Red Sox 0, Orioles 0: The Sox haven’t had any problems creating scoring chances so far this series against the Orioles. They just haven’t cashed in.
In the first two games, the Sox combined to go 1 for 11 with runners in scoring position.
A lot of it was tough luck. A combined seven double plays in those two games pulled the plug on all scoring threats.
The double-play ball wasn’t the issue this inning, but tough luck was.
Dustin Pedroia’s leadoff double and David Ortiz’s one-out walk (after Daniel Nava’s groundout) gave them runners at the corners.
But Mike Napoli fell behind in the count and struck out chasing a cutter well off the plate.
Mike Carp laced one to left, but right at left fielder Nate McLouth, leaving the runners stranded.
So in one inning, the Sox are already 0 for 3 with runners in scoring position.
Pregame: The scenario’s pretty simple for the Red Sox at this point.
Win and they’re in.
They don’t any help to clinch they’re first playoff berth since 2009. Not from the Indians, who actually did as much as they could for the Sox by losing two of three to the Royals. Not from anyone.
All the Sox have to do is beat the Orioles, which hasn’t been an easy task the past two days let alone the past two years. The Os came from behind to beat the Sox Tuesday and outlasted them over 12 innings last night.
Beyond just a playoff berth, the Sox obviously have their eyes on their first division title since 2007 and the top seed in the American League, but with a win they would be the first team in baseball to clinch.
It won’t exactly be easy with the Orioles sending Chris Tillman to the mound, He’s given the Sox fits this season, going 3-0 with a 1.42 ERA in three starts against the Sox this year.