Dice-K, bats power sweep

Dice-K, bats power Sox's sweep

BALTIMORE -- The Red Sox's offense has been on a tear recently, scoring 196 runs since Aug. 18. That roll continued in Sunday's game, as they banged out 14 hits and got runs in six innings while constantly putting pressure on the Orioles' pitchers.

But while the hitting has been strong, Boston's pitchers are doing just fine also, as the starters have allowed three runs or less in 13 consecutive games. Daisuke Matsuzaka kept that streak going by giving up three runs in 5 1/3 effective innings as the Red Sox completed a series sweep with a 9-3 victory over the Orioles before 27,546 at Camden Yards.

The Red Sox (89-59) won all three games of this series and finished 2009 with a 16-2 record against the Orioles (60-89). Boston got plenty of help on offense as Jacoby Ellsbury had three hits and three RBIs -- ending up just a triple short of the cycle -- and four others added two more hits. Jason Bay went 2-for-4 with three RBIs, setting a new career high with 110 for the season.

Boston also reduced its magic number for clinching the American League Wild Card to seven after the Angels beat the Rangers, 10-5. The Red Sox have also made things interesting in the AL East, as they are just five games back of the Yankees, who lost, 7-1, to the Mariners.

The starting pitching has helped the Red Sox turn things around in recent games. Matsuzaka has won both starts since coming off the disabled list, and the Boston starters are now 8-1 during the 13-game stretch where they've allowed three runs or less. In addition, the starters are 7-0 in the past 11 games.

"It's amazing how when pitching is consistent everything else seems to have a way of working, even when the bats aren't maybe alive on one night," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "But your pitching gives you a chance. It gives you a chance every night to be a good team."

Matsuzaka's life was made easier by the fact that the Red Sox held a 7-0 lead in the fourth inning. He threw six shutout innings in his first start on Tuesday and kept Boston in command in this game.

"Today was not as good as my last start," he said through an interpreter. "I feel that gradually my stuff is getting better."

Francona liked how aggressive Matsuzaka pitched throughout the game. The right-hander gave up a two-run homer to Luke Scott in the fourth and scattered the rest of his hits, rarely getting into any trouble until the sixth inning.

But the offense made Matsuzaka's life much easier. They scored three runs in the first thanks to a Bay RBI single and a two-run single from Mike Lowell. Victor Martinez added an RBI single in the second. Ellsbury broke things open with a two-out two-run double to left for a 6-0 lead in the third and agreed with Francona's thoughts about the importance of consistent pitching.

"You get solid pitching [and] it gives you an opportunity to win each and every night, regardless of how you swing the bats," Ellsbury said. "It's been nice to get the great starts we've been getting from our starting pitchers, and we've been swinging the bats well. Everything's rolling, and hopefully we can keep it going."

Bay made it 7-0 with a solo homer in the fourth and added his third RBI when getting hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the sixth. He didn't look like a player who had been bothered by a flu-like illness the past few days.

"Actually, I've been feeling not bad, I just haven't been able to eat or drink that much, so the energy level was a little low," said Bay, who was celebrating his 31st birthday. "But I'm feeling a lot better today."

Martinez, Dustin Pedroia and Alex Gonzalez each got two hits as the Red Sox finished with a number of timely hits. They went 6-for-14 with runners in scoring position, knocking out Orioles starter Jason Berken (5-12) after just three innings.

Eight of the nine players in the Red Sox's starting lineup got hits, and Martinez (19 games) and Pedroia (12 games) both extended their hitting streaks. But with all of the hitting, it was the pitching of Matsuzaka that gave Boston a good starting point, which is what's been happening throughout recent games, and the Red Sox capitalized on it once again.

Jeff Seidel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.