BOSTON — The Boston Red Sox enter the All-Star break with a six-game winning streak after starting the season with six consecutive losses.
Quite a turnaround, but not a surprising one for manager Terry Francona.
“I think we are where we deserve to be,” he said after Sunday’s 8-6 win over the skidding Baltimore Orioles.
The AL East-leading Red Sox completed a four-game sweep and stayed one game ahead of the Yankees, who beat Tampa Bay 1-0 on Sunday. It’s the sixth time in seven seasons that Boston has led the division at the All-Star break.
The Red Sox have the second-best record and the best batting average in baseball. They’re hitting .278 after pounding out 13 hits against Baltimore, including homers by Marco Scutaro, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis in the second inning.
The Red Sox had 48 hits in the series.
“Hitting is contagious,” said Jason Varitek, who had two doubles Sunday. “It gets the ball rolling.”
Baltimore has lost seven straight and 12 of 13.
“The break is a good thing, obviously,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “Hopefully, guys get as far away as possible from it and come back and play these last 74 games like we have at times this year and get back to playing good baseball.”
Francona and Showalter were ejected after pitches hit or came close to their batters. Boston starter Kyle Weiland also was tossed in his major league debut.
The series, marred by a bench-clearing fracas on Friday night after David Ortiz was nearly hit by two pitches before popping out, had more tight pitches on Sunday. Baltimore’s Mark Reynolds was plunked in the third and Youkilis was hit by a changeup from Jeremy Guthrie (3-12) in the fourth.
“Obviously on a changeup he wasn’t trying to hit Youkilis,” Weiland said. “I think just with everything that’s happened they jumped to the warnings.”
Francona and Weiland were ejected after the right-hander hit Guerrero with no outs in the fifth. Then Showalter and Mike Gonzalez were tossed when the reliever threw a pitch that nearly hit Ortiz in the bottom of the inning.
“I’d have thrown (Gonzalez) out of the game, too,” Showalter said.
Asked if he was throwing at Ortiz, Gonzalez said: “The series was frustrating the whole way. It was what it was.”
Boston also had three homers in an inning in Thursday’s 10-4 series-opening win, with Ortiz, Josh Reddick and Jarrod Saltalamacchia hitting solo shots in consecutive at-bats.
“They’re in first place in our division and you can see why. They’re real deep,” Showalter said.
Alfredo Aceves (4-1) pitched three perfect innings after Weiland left, and Jonathan Papelbon got his 20th save in 21 opportunities.
All but one of the Orioles’ eight hits came in a six-run second that gave them a 6-2 lead. The Red Sox tied it in the bottom half on Scutaro’s fourth homer of the year, Pedroia’s 11th and Youkilis’ 13th, a two-run drive.
Guthrie then replaced Mitch Atkins and retired Ortiz to end the inning. But Guthrie walked Ortiz with the bases loaded in the fifth, forcing in the go-ahead run.
Jacoby Ellsbury added an RBI single in the seventh, making it 8-6 Boston.
The Red Sox grabbed a 2-0 lead in the first. Ortiz had an RBI single and Reddick drove in Adrian Gonzalez with a sacrifice fly.
Weiland retired the side in order in the first, then struggled in the second. Derrek Lee hit a tying two-run shot for his ninth homer, and Robert Andino, Nick Markakis and Adam Jones each had an RBI single.
In Saturday night’s game, John Lackey rebounded from the worst start of his Red Sox career with 6 2-3 shutout innings and Boston beat the Orioles 4-0.
Lackey, booed last Monday as he left the mound after allowing seven runs in 2 1-3 innings, got a standing ovation as he strode to the dugout with runners at first and second in the seventh. Daniel Bard then retired Nolan Reimold on an inning-ending popup.
Lackey (6-8) struck out seven and walked one just five days after his 9-7 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, the shortest outing in his two seasons with Boston.
Alfredo Simon (1-2) allowed three runs in the fifth on an RBI-double by Kevin Youkilis and a two-run double by Josh Reddick.
Youkilis added another run-scoring double in the seventh off Mark Hendrickson.
Baltimore’s loss came one day after a 10-3 setback in which the benches cleared twice in the eighth inning., the first after Kevin Gregg’s inside pitch to David Ortiz and the second after Ortiz charged Gregg when the pitcher gestured at him as he started down the first-base line on a fly out to right field.
Both punched at each other but failed to connect
Ortiz apologized on Saturday “to everyone for the situation. … Even to Gregg.”
Lackey hit two batters on Saturday. Nick Markakis went directly to first after being hit in the sixth. With two outs and no runners on in the seventh, Lackey hit Derek Lee below his left hip. Plate umpire Jeff Nelson warned both benches.
Simon, a former closer making his first start since April 14, 2009 fell behind 3-0 in the fifth after retiring the first batter.
Jacoby Ellsbury then tripled but was out at home on a hard grounder to Simon by Dustin Pedroia, who took second. After an intentional walk to Adrian Gonzalez, Youkilis doubled in the first run. Ortiz also was walked intentionally, a move that backfired when Reddick hit his two-run double.
In the seventh, Pedroia stretched his hitting streak to 11 games with a leadoff double and scored on Youkilis’ double.
The Orioles managed just four singles.
Bard pitched 1 1-3 shutout innings, bringing his scoreless streak to 18 1-3. Jonathan Papelbon worked the ninth.