It's been a long road to respectability for the 2012 Boston Red Sox, but they're finally back on the doorstep.
Winners of three straight and nine of 11, the Red Sox try to move above .500 for the first time this season when they continue their series against the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday night at Camden Yards.
Boston (21-21) has had three chances to forge a winning record in 2012, and all three times it has failed. The Red Sox lost their season opener en route to a 4-10 start. They then won six straight but squandered a pair of chances to pull above .500 at the end of April, and dropped eight of their first nine games this month - sinking to 12-19 on May 10.
Boston may finally be turning the corner, storming back to the break-even mark on the strength of power hitting and stellar relief pitching.
"It's definitely not a goal, but it's better than being under .500,'' manager Bobby Valentine said.
The Red Sox have swatted 18 homers during their current 9-2 surge. The bullpen has transformed from a disaster area (8.44 ERA through April 21) into a strength, with a major league-best 1.50 ERA over the past month.
The Red Sox fell behind early in Monday's series opener, but David Ortiz's homer to lead off the sixth inning sparked their rally from a three-run deficit to an eventual 8-6 victory. Four relievers limited the Orioles (27-16) to one run in 3 2-3 innings, with Vicente Padilla stranding two runners in scoring position in the eighth and Alfredo Aceves pitching a perfect ninth for his 10th save.
AL East-leading Baltimore hasn't had to deal with much adversity during its surprising start, but must win Tuesday to avoid its first three-game skid since being swept at home by the New York Yankees from April 9-11. Pitching has been the key lately for the Orioles, who have allowed seven or more runs in each of their last seven losses.
Baltimore is 27-7 when allowing six or fewer runs.
The task of containing Boston on Tuesday will fall to the resurgent Brian Matusz (3-4, 5.36 ERA), who seeks his fourth win in five starts since a 12-decision losing streak.
The left-hander pitched just well enough to win Thursday at Kansas City, allowing three runs in six innings of a 5-3 victory at Kansas City. He's 2-1 with a 4.02 ERA in six career starts against the Red Sox but had a brutal outing the only time he faced them last season, giving up six runs in 1 2-3 innings of an 18-9 loss Sept. 19 at Fenway Park.
Ortiz is 1 for 10 with eight strikeouts against Matusz, but Boston first baseman Adrian Gonzalez is 3 for 3 with a double and two walks in their matchups.
Matusz will be opposed by fellow southpaw Felix Doubront (4-1, 4.09), who looks to win his fourth consecutive outing. He allowed two runs - one earned - six hits and four walks in 5 2-3 innings of Thursday's 5-3 victory at Tampa Bay.
Doubront has been plagued by high pitch counts. His 18.6 pitches per inning rank among the highest in the majors, and as a result he has yet to last longer than 6 1-3 innings in any outing.
This will be Doubront's first start against Baltimore.
Several Orioles had solid offensive efforts in the series-opening loss. Chris Davis homered for the first time in three weeks, Matt Wieters snapped an 0-for-20 drought with an RBI single, and Adam Jones singled to extend his hitting streak to a career high-tying 13 games.
"Yeah, it's a tough one to lose, but there's always positive things we can take away from the game,'' Davis said.
Boston activated infielder Kevin Youkilis from the 15-day disabled list and put outfielder Ryan Sweeney on the 7-day concussion DL prior to this game.
Youkilis was placed on the disabled list May 2, retroactive to April 29, with a strained lower back. He is batting .219 with two homers and nine RBIs in 18 games.