Boston manager Grady Little knows how bad Sunday’s loss to the archrival New York Yankees was.
He also realizes that the Red Sox are still in control of their own postseason destiny, a luxury most teams in the majors don’t have.
Boston will begin its stretch drive toward the playoffs when it opens a three-game series with the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards.
The Red Sox won five straight and 12 of 15 entering Sunday’s showdown with New York at Yankee Stadium. On the verge of a three-game sweep that would have moved it within one-half game of the Yankees for first place in the AL East, Boston suffered a disheartening 3-1 loss.
“There’s a big difference between being three games back in the loss column than one,” Little admitted.
Despite the defeat, Boston remained 1 1/2 games in front of slumping Seattle in the AL wild-card race. Now, the Red Sox have to make sure they don’t suffer a letdown against the Orioles.
Baltimore took five of seven from Boston at the beginning of August, a skid that nearly dropped the Red Sox out of contention in the East. The Red Sox have won just five of 12 meetings with the Orioles overall this season.
“What it comes down to now is how we do against the other teams.” Boston left-hander Alan Embree said after the loss to the Yankees.
The Orioles did the Red Sox a favor during the weekend, taking two of three from the Mariners, including Sunday’s 2-1 triumph. Pat Hentgen pitched eight strong innings and Brian Roberts went 2-for-4 with an RBI as Baltimore improved to 4-2 since a nine-game losing streak.
“We don’t care who wins their division,” Roberts said. “We’re playing for our own pride, and a lot of us are playing for our jobs.”
STANDINGS: Red Sox - 2nd place, 2 1/2 GB, AL East. Orioles - 4th place, 20 1/2 GB, AL East.
RED SOX PROBABLE STARTER: John Burkett (10-7, 4.84 ERA). Burkett snapped a four-start winless streak with a strong performance against the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday. The veteran right-hander allowed just one run and three hits over six strong innings as the Red Sox pulled out a 2-1 win. Burkett struck out four and walked one, reaching 10 wins for the ninth time in his 16-year career. He is 3-8 with a 4.91 ERA in 13 career appearances, including 12 starts, against Baltimore.
ORIOLES PROBABLE STARTER: Rodrigo Lopez (7-9, 5.36 ERA). Lopez, who has tossed complete games in two of his last three outings, is coming off his first career shutout. The right-hander scattered seven hits while striking out four and walking three in Wednesday’s 9-0 triumph over Oakland. Lopez is 5-2 with a 3.91 ERA in eight career appearances, including seven starts, against Boston.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Red Sox - Bill Mueller, .322 avg.; Manny Ramirez, 31 HRs; Nomar Garciaparra, 94 RBIs and 110 runs; Johnny Damon, 26 SBs. Orioles - Roberts, .280 avg. and 21 SBs; Tony Batista, 24 HRs; Jay Gibbons, 91 RBIs; Jeff Conine, 75 runs.
SEASON SERIES: Orioles, 7-5.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Red Sox - Boston is 5-1 on its nine-game road trip. … RHP Burkett is 4-6 with a 5.16 ERA in 14 road starts this year. … Boston lost the season series to New York 10-9. If the Yankees and Red Sox finish with the same record and the wild card is assured of coming from the AL East, New York would win the division. Orioles - INF Roberts is 9-for-14 in the last three games. He is also riding an 11-game hitting streak. … OF Gibbons is 4-for-41 in his last 11 games. … RHP Lopez is 6-3 with a 4.41 ERA in 13 road starts this year.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Red Sox - 37-35 on the road; Orioles - 37-34 at home.
INJURIES: Red Sox - OF-DH Jeremy Giambi (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Bob Howry (elbow), 60-day DL; RHP Robert Person (hip), 60-day DL. Orioles - 1B David Segui (wrist), 15-day DL; RHP Kurt Ainsworth (shoulder), 15-day DL; LHP Omar Daal (rotator cuff), 15-day DL; LHP Erik Bedard (elbow), 60-day DL; RHP Scott Erickson (shoulder), 60-day DL; RHP Willis Roberts (elbow), 60-day DL; OF Albert Belle (hip), 60-day DL; OF Marty Cordova (elbow), 60-day DL.