At 86-64, the Orioles sit atop the AL Wild Card standings and trail the AL East-leading Yankees, who recorded a 2-1 walk-off victory vs. the A's, by just one game.
Every win is critical at this juncture for the Orioles, no matter how it comes, but beating a Boston team which has already secured a losing season and taking their eighth win in nine games at Fenway Park showed the stark turnaround of the two clubs from only a year ago.
"It's nice when you come to the ballpark in general and every game means something," said closer Jim Johnson, who set a new club single-season record by notching his 46th save. "You can feel it amongst the guys in the clubhouse and around the crowds we play in. We're even seeing for the first time Baltimore fans in Boston. I've never seen that before. It's pretty cool seeing how things are changing. It's a good time. We're enjoying the ride, but we're not satisfied."
Playing in meaningful September games, the Orioles extended their AL lead in road wins to 44 and also improved to 67-0 this season when leading after seven innings, with Johnson, who broke Randy Myers' mark set in 1997, continuing to make late leads hold up.
"He's been the best in the league, that's how we feel in this clubhouse," said Wieters, who is batting .368 with six runs scored and eight RBIs in his last four games. "Anytime we can get [Johnson] the ball we feel pretty good about what kind of job we are going to get."
The same can be said about Lester and the O's, as Boston's ace entered Friday's game on a 14-0 streak that was the longest against the Orioles franchise dating back to 1901 to start a career.
"It was bound to happen sometime," said Lester, who surrendered four earned runs in the loss. "Buck [Showalter] has done a good job over there as far as trying to change the mentality of their players. The offense was always there. They could always hit the ball and run and do the little things inside the game. They lacked a little pitching, whether it was starting or the back end of the bullpen, and they've done a good job of filling those pieces, and it's finally coming together for them."
One of those pieces is Gonzalez.
Released by the Red Sox over the winter and signed as a Minor League free agent, Gonzalez went at least six innings for the third consecutive start and picked up his seventh win of the season. The 28-year-old rookie held Boston to two runs and scattered seven hits and a walk with three strikeouts over 6 1/3 frames in his first career start against his former organization.
"I felt great," said Gonzalez, who insisted there was no added incentive in winning in Boston. "I think every win matters. It doesn't matter where you pitch. Every at-bat, every pitch, every inning matters right now, and we've just concentrated on that."
Lester outlasted him in going seven innings, but the Orioles -- namely, Wieters -- were able to do enough damage off the lefty. Wieters, coming off a rare two days off, knocked in two runs in the fourth inning on a sharp single down the first-base line to score J.J. Hardy and Adam Jones. Wieters struck again by doubling in Jones in the sixth and the Orioles pushed their total to four on Mark Reynolds' single to center field.
Gonzalez exited after a one-out single from Jose Iglesias, and reliever Darren O'Day took over and tossed 1 2/3 scoreless innings. O'Day, who has allowed just six of 41 inherited runners to score this year, turned the ball over to Johnson as the O's improved to 5-2 on a three-city, nine-game road trip.
"That's hard to do," Showalter said of winning games on the road, "but I've said many times that one common denominator for teams that get a chance to play in the postseason is you've got to compete on the road. And having guys like Jim Johnson and Darren O'Day and Gonzalez is what allows you to do that. It's the pitching."
Added Johnson: "We're just grinders -- a team, a bunch of guys who just battle. You know you have to go into enemy territory to try to steal some wins. They talk about how you have to win the series at home and protect on the road, but I feel like we go into every series expecting us to win. It's just that mindset we've had since the beginning of the year, and we've carried it the whole way through."