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BAL@TOR: Tillman goes the distance in tough loss

The Red Sox can clinch a playoff berth with a win on Thursday night, but it's the Orioles who really need to take the teams' series finale at Fenway Park.

Baltimore already has won the first two games against Boston, pulling out a 5-3 win in 12 innings on Wednesday. A sweep would give a major boost to its playoff hopes.

By starting their 10-game road trip 4-1, the Orioles have pulled to within a game of the Rangers for the second American League Wild Card spot. The O's also trail the Indians by a half-game and sit 1 1/2 games in front of the Royals and Yankees.

With such a crowded field and only 11 games remaining on the schedule, the pressure certainly is on for the Orioles. That's something manager Buck Showalter knows his players need to deal with down the stretch.

"It affects everybody differently," Showalter said. "They're not a bunch of robots. You see certain little things and sometimes it won't be there the next time it happens. It is what it is.

"Somehow I don't look at this team when I watch them play as a team that's all tightened up with pressure. I don't. They've got a lot of oil on their backs, things kind of slide off them really well. Doesn't mean they don't care -- I can tell you that."

Showalter believes that pressure tends to fall more on pitchers than position players, who have limited at-bats and defensive chances. On Thursday, Baltimore's Chris Tillman will take on that burden as he squares off against fellow right-hander John Lackey.

Tillman (16-6, 3.70 ERA) is 3-0 with a 1.42 ERA in four starts against the Red Sox this year, including a win on Aug. 29, when he held them to two runs over seven innings at Fenway Park.

Tillman also has given Showalter eight innings in four of his past 11 outings. He did so on Saturday in a loss at Toronto, where he gave up two runs in the first, then two on Colby Rasmus' go-ahead home run in the seventh.

"I got to be better there," Tillman said. "Big mistakes early and late. I got to be better in those situations."

Lackey (9-12, 3.56 ERA) has a 4.35 ERA in three starts against the Orioles, whom he held to three runs over 7 1/3 innings on Aug. 28.

The Yankees roughed up the veteran in his past two outings, scoring 11 runs on 15 hits over 12 innings.

Orioles: Valencia's big turnaround
Designated hitter Danny Valencia started a game-tying rally for the Orioles in Wednesday's fifth inning, breaking up Jake Peavy's no-hitter to ignite a two-run inning. It was just the latest contribution for one of the team's biggest surprises.

Even before Wednesday, Valencia was hitting .320 with eight home runs and a .988 OPS in 40 games. He hit .188 with three homers and a .497 OPS while splitting 44 games between the Twins and Red Sox last year.

"Last year was a tough year. It was a tough year for me," Valencia said. "To put that behind me and have a good year and be on a team that's playing for something meaningful, it's nice."

Red Sox: Ellsbury not done
Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury hasn't played since Sept. 5 due to a compression fracture in his right foot, the result of a foul ball he hit on Aug. 28. However, Ellsbury feels "very confident" he will return before the end of the regular season.

After playing with the injury for about a week, Ellsbury finally was shut down when doctors insisted he rest. But according to Ellsbury, doctors now are "happy" with the progress he's made in his recovery.

"The docs have put me on a fast track as far as a plan and getting back as quick as possible," Ellsbury said. "At the same time, just getting out there and playing like I can. I keep on telling them I'm trying to push the envelope with them. They always have to tell me to slow down. It does take time, but I'm very hopeful I'll be back playing soon."

Worth noting
• The Orioles hold a 9-6 lead in the season series. The teams will close the season with a three-game set at Camden Yards, Sept. 27-29.

• The Red Sox have lost consecutive games for the first time since they dropped three straight from Aug. 14-16.

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