In a season full of surprises for the Baltimore Orioles, their success against the Boston Red Sox could be the biggest.
Surging Baltimore looks to take a step closer to a rare season series win over the Red Sox on Wednesday night when these AL East rivals continue a three-game set.
With 14 straight losing seasons, it comes as no surprise that the Orioles have struggled mightily against the Red Sox in recent years. Baltimore went 42-84 versus Boston from 2005-2011 and has won the season series once since 1996, going 10-9 in 2004.
This, however, has been a season of change for both teams, with the Orioles (63-53) in playoff position while the Red Sox (57-60) may be headed for their first losing season since 1997.
Baltimore improved to 7-3 against Boston in 2012 with a 7-1 victory in Tuesday's series opener. Mark Reynolds' second homer of the night capped a five-run sixth inning as the Orioles remained in possession of one of the AL's two wild card spots with their eighth win in 10 games.
"We've been playing really well against them all year," said designated hitter Chris Davis, who had two hits and an RBI. "It was big for us to get the win and kind of set the tone for the series."
With six weeks still remaining, Baltimore is six wins away from matching last season's total and is 23-19 against the AL East after going 28-44 in 2011.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, have lost nine of 13 this month and their woes aren't limited to on the field.
Second baseman Dustin Pedroia acknowledged after Tuesday's game that there were a series of meetings in New York last month to discuss the team's decline under first-year manager Bobby Valentine.
"I know the coaches had a meeting, Bobby had a meeting, we all had a meeting," Pedroia said. "Basically when I spoke I said we all had to be better. That means the owners, Bobby, coaches, especially the players. I have had one problem with Bobby earlier in the year and I went into his office and talked to him like a man and he talked to me like a man. And we've been great. We've had a great relationship."
Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury went 2 for 5 to extend his hitting streak against Baltimore to 37 games, during which he's batting .416. It is the longest hit streak ever versus the Orioles franchise and the longest by a Red Sox player against any team.
Ellsbury will try to extend his streak against scheduled starter Miguel Gonzalez (4-2, 3.42 ERA), who is on an impressive run of his own.
Since getting hit hard by Tampa Bay on July 25 while pitching through the flu, the right-hander has gone 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA in his past three starts. He pitched a career-high eight innings in a 7-1 win over Kansas City on Friday, allowing one run and six hits while striking out five and walking one.
Gonzalez, who spent the past two seasons in the Red Sox organization, gave up one run in four innings of relief at Boston on June 7.
He'll be opposed by Aaron Cook (3-5, 4.70), who makes his first appearance in nine days. After going 0-4 with a 5.79 ERA in his previous five starts, the veteran right-hander regained control of his sinker and limited Texas to one run and six hits over seven innings during a 9-2 victory Aug. 6. Of his 21 outs, 15 came on groundballs.
Cook struggled in his only career outing against the Orioles on May 5, yielding seven runs and eight hits in 2 2-3 innings of an 8-2 loss at Fenway Park.
Baltimore's Wilson Betemit is 5 for 9 with a homer off Cook.