Sox rock O's, close in on AL's top seed

BALTIMORE -- Rocky Mountain high or sittin' on the dock of the (Chesapeake) bay, it makes no difference these days to the Red Sox, who can do no worse than tie for the best record in the American League after their 12-3 demolition of the Baltimore Orioles on Friday night.

"I think it speaks volumes for the team that we have, the way they've performed as a group throughout the course of this year," manager John Farrell said. "We've still got two more games to play and because we've put ourselves in one position, it doesn't change our approach coming back here tomorrow."

The Red Sox's record is now 97-63, which leaves the Oakland Athletics in a position of having to sweep their season-ending series in Seattle while hoping the Sox lose their last two in Baltimore to force a tie. Should that happen, the Athletics would claim the best overall record in the league, based on a convoluted set of tiebreakers. (The first tiebreaker is head-to-head record, but Boston and Oakland split their season series at three wins each; the A's would have the advantage in the second tiebreaker, best intradivision record -- the A's could finish 45-31 in the West, versus Boston's 44-32 mark in the East.)

In that case, the Red Sox would open their AL division series at home next Friday against the Detroit Tigers, winners of the AL Central, while Oakland would host the wild-card winner.

The Athletics beat the Mariners and their ace, Felix Hernandez, 8-2, on Friday night, to remain one game behind the Sox with two to go.

The preferable scenario for the Sox is that they would get the wild-card winner -- the Rays and Indians are tied, with the Rangers one game behind -- and also be the home team for the ALCS, should they advance that far.

So, for another day at least, the Sox remain in a state of limbo, which is still far preferable to the state of shock that the Orioles left them in two years ago this weekend, when they knocked Boston out of the playoffs altogether on the last day of the regular season. The Orioles, who were eliminated from wild-card consideration earlier this week, could still play a limited spoiler role this weekend, but the Red Sox weren't about to give them that satisfaction Friday night.

The late-comers were still filing in when the Red Sox jumped on Orioles starter Ryan Feldman for five runs on five hits and a walk in the first inning, the big blow a three-run home run by Daniel Nava. By the third, when the Sox opened an 8-0 lead, every player in Boston's starting lineup except for Jacoby Ellsbury had at least one hit.

The Red Sox reached double figures in both runs and hits (16) at sea level in their first game since doing the same at altitude in Denver (15 runs on 16 hits Wednesday night). Jonny Gomes had four hits and a walk, hitting a first-pitch home run to lead off the ninth for Boston's final run.

"I just tell you, it echoes the comments and thoughts and conversations going on in the clubhouse here," Farrell said. "These guys are in a pretty good place. They're not looking to back off. They continue not to give away at-bats in the course of a night. Tonight was another example of that."

David Ortiz, who earlier this week reached 100 RBIs for the seventh time in his career, made it seven times to the 30-homer level, too, when he hit an opposite-field three-run home run off Orioles rookie Mike Belfiore, Ortiz the first batter the right-hander faced in his major league debut. Welcome to the big leagues, kid.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia thought he had a three-run home run, too, in the third until umpires reversed their call upon video review and ruled a ground-rule double. The reversal actually earned Saltalamacchia a line in the Sox record book, as the double was his 40th of the season, a club record for catchers.

It won't show up in anybody's record book, but it's still impressive: Closer Koji Uehara struck out the first batter he faced, Chris Snyder, in the ninth, for his 100th strikeout of the season, in just 73 1/3 innings. He is the eighth Sox reliever to strike out 100 batters, the first to do so in fewer than 100 innings.

The Sox, now 33-13 in games decided by five runs or more, made it an easy night for Clay Buchholz, who went seven innings and threw 113 pitches to run his record to 12-1. He did not walk a batter, struck out four and gave up seven hits, including home runs to Adam Jones, a two-run shot in the third, and Chris Davis, a bases-empty homer, his major league-best 53rd home run of the season.

Ellsbury went hitless in four trips in his second game back from his foot injury, giving way to Jackie Bradley Jr. in the seventh. Mike Napoli, who hadn't played since last Friday while resting his foot (plantar fasciitis), doubled and scored in his first plate appearance and also walked twice and whiffed twice.

Shane Victorino (thumb) sat this one out, though manager John Farrell said Victorino wanted to play and would be back in the lineup Saturday.