BALTIMORE — The Boston Red Sox are in the middle of the AL East pennant race, although not exactly in the fashion they envisioned at the beginning of the season.
At this point, however, the Red Sox can’t even fulfill their role as spoilers.
After losing three in a row to the Baltimore Orioles, the last one 6-3 on Sunday, the Red Sox now head to New York to face the Yankees in a season-ending, three-game series.
Baltimore and New York are in a first-place tie in the division, and the Red Sox are in last. The last time Boston (69-90) lost 90 games was in 1966.
“We haven’t had a good season,” manager Bobby Valentine acknowledged.
Boston fell behind 5-0 in the third inning. Red Sox starter Zack Stewart (0-2) surrendered two homers, including a leadoff shot by Nate McLouth, and lasted only 2 2-3 innings.
“Seemed like first-inning jitters,” Valentine said. “Had the ball up a little. Before you know it, it’s five runs.”
Pitching in front of a crowd of 41,257, Stewart liked the atmosphere but didn’t care for the results.
“I like playing in that situation. It gets your adrenaline going,” he said. “Those guys, they’re basically on the gas pedal right now. They’re doing a good job. That was one of those deals where they beat us all series, and I guess they had their foot on our throat right there and pushed down.”
Cody Ross and Daniel Nava homered for the Red Sox, who have dropped five straight and 16 of 22.
McLouth, J.J. Hardy and Chris Davis hit solo homers, and Jim Thome drove in two runs for Baltimore. The Orioles completed a sweep and went 13-5 against Boston, their most wins in a single season versus the Red Sox since 1970 (13-5).
Joe Saunders (3-3) allowed three runs, eight hits and no walks in 7 1-3 innings for Baltimore. Obtained in a late-August trade with Arizona, Saunders has yielded a total of 12 earned runs in his last six starts.
Jim Johnson worked the ninth for his 50th save.
A sunny, breezy fall afternoon couldn’t have started much better for the Orioles. After the video board showed the Yankees and Angels losing early, McClouth hit the fourth pitch from Stewart over the left-field wall.
Hardy and Davis followed with singles before Stewart hit Jones with a pitch to load the bases. After Matt Wieters bounced into a run-scoring 4-6-3 double play, Thome followed with grounder up the middle that beat the shift and rolled into the outfield, scoring Davis for a 3-0 lead.
Boston wasted doubles in the second and third innings before Hardy led off the bottom of the third with his 22nd home run. Jones singled with one out, and Thome chased Stewart with an RBI single.
Ross homered in the fourth to get the Red Sox to 5-1. Davis connected off Clayton Mortensen in the fifth, his 31st homer of the season and fourth in four games.
Nava homered in the seventh with a man on.
NOTES: Jones was chosen Orioles MVP in a vote among media covering the team, the second straight year he’s won the award. “It is given to me, but I think the whole team deserves it,” he said. … Boston hit three doubles and now has a major-league leading 214 for the season. … Red Sox RHP Clay Buchholz, who’s 2-4 with a 5.84 ERA lifetime against the Yankees, starts Monday night against CC Sabathia. Rookie Wei-Yin Chen (12-10) starts for Baltimore in Tampa Bay against Alex Cobb (10-9). … The top three players in the Baltimore lineup — McLouth, Hardy and Davis — combined to go 6 for 10 with three HRs and five runs.