BOSTON — After a slow start, David Ortiz has put up the statistics to quiet his critics again this season.
Ortiz hit a three-run homer and drove in four runs, John Lackey ended a career-worst four-game losing streak and the Boston Red Sox avoided a three-game sweep with a 6-1 win over the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday night.
Coming off a miserable April for the second straight year, Ortiz has produced a strong season again after questions swirled about his career possibly being over.
“Well documented,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said of Ortiz’s slow start. “For some it was probably after his third at-bat. He’s kind of swung his way into being one of the top hitters in the league again.”
Ortiz hit his 31st homer of the season on Monday and raised his RBI total to 96. He had five straight 100-plus RBI seasons for the Red Sox from 2003-07, and had 99 last year.
“I knew I was going to hit, that’s what I know how to do,” said Ortiz, who hit just .143 with one homer and four RBIs in April.
“Things didn’t start out the way people expect,” he said. “It’s a long season. People thought I was done. April is only one month. I work hard. I know how to put myself together.”
Last season, he hit only .230 with no homers and 12 RBIs in April.
Now the question is: will the club pick up the final year of his contract, a $12.5 million option for next season?
“I don’t know,” he said.
Josh Reddick also homered for Boston — his first of the season — as the Red Sox avoided being swept in Fenway Park by the Orioles for the first time since 1994. Boston has been swept at home twice this season.
The Orioles lost for just the fifth time in 17 games.
Lackey (13-11), who had lost four straight starts for the first time in his career, pitched seven innings. He allowed one run and five hits and struck out four.
The veteran righthander, signed as a free agent to a $82.5-million, five-year deal during the offseason, was expected to be a top of the rotation pitcher, but he has struggled with inconsistency this season. He’s allowed five or more runs in nearly one-third of his starts.
Ortiz hit his three-run homer into the Red Sox bullpen off Kevin Millwood (3-16) to push Boston ahead 3-1 in the fourth inning.
“That actually wasn’t a terrible pitch,” Millwood said. “I threw it pretty close to where I wanted to. On that, you just tip your cap and move on.”
Reddick’s deep drive into the right-field seats made it 4-1 in the fifth.
Millwood, who has the most losses in the American League, gave up six runs and seven hits in five innings.
“We didn’t have many opportunities. I thought their pitcher was carrying a good fastball early,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “You can see when a guy throws that many fastballs early. You can see when a guy throws that many fastballs early in a game, he has confidence in it.”
Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon pitched a one-hit ninth, striking out three, one night after allowing four runs in a non-save situation.
The Red Sox chased Millwood with two runs in the sixth. Ortiz’s RBI single made it 5-1. Adrian Beltre added an RBI double off reliever David Hernandez.
Baltimore took a 1-0 lead in the fourth on Ty Wigginton’s RBI double.
NOTES: The teams split the season series 9-9. … The Red Sox were swept at home by Tampa Bay in April and the White Sox earlier this month. … Lackey went over 200 innings for the fifth time in his career. … Showalter announced most of his rotation for this weekend in Toronto: RHP Chris Tillman will start Friday, Jeremy Guthrie on Saturday, but he was still undecided for Sunday. … Boston’s Ryan Kalish shattered his bat on a single to right and the end went flying about 10 rows back behind the Red Sox on-deck circle, where it was caught by a fan. … Baltimore’s Nick Markakis has 43 doubles this year; his fourth straight year with at least that many. He’s just the third player in major league history to accomplish that feat. Hall of Famers Joe Medwick (1935-39) and Tris Speaker (1920-23) are the others. … Boston 3B Adrian Beltre needs one RBI for his second career 100-RBI season. The other came with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2004.