AL Wild Card down to final day

One more win may be enough to get the Boston Red Sox to the postseason, but a second might be needed. Giving the ball to Jon Lester against the Baltimore Orioles tends to assure the Red Sox of a victory without much trouble.

Lester, who will be pitching on three days’ rest, looks to continue his domination of the Orioles and help the Red Sox get back to the playoffs when these teams meet at Camden Yards on Wednesday night.

Most sports books monitored by SportsOptions have installed the Red Sox as hefty $2.00 road favorites, with the total set at nine ‘over’ (minus $1.25).

Boston (90-71) owns a share of the AL wild-card lead with Tampa Bay heading into the final day of the regular season. The Rays face AL East champion New York, and would host the Red Sox in a one-game playoff Thursday if the teams remain deadlocked.

The Red Sox held a nine-game lead over Tampa Bay earlier this month, but their 7-19 September record has dramatically changed the landscape. They held on for an 8-7 win over Baltimore (68-93) on Tuesday to keep pace for the league’s final playoff berth.

“I think it’s really good for baseball, not so good for my stomach,” manager Terry Francona said. “It’s exciting. If you don’t want to show up (Wednesday) and play, you’ve got no pulse. My goodness, I can’t remember being that nervous in a long time. Go back to the hotel and not sleep, and then show up and see what we can do.”

Giving the ball to Lester (15-9, 3.49 ERA) against the Orioles usually eases Francona’s nerves.

The left-hander is 14-0 with a 2.33 ERA in 17 starts against Baltimore, winning all seven of his decisions in nine visits to Camden Yards. He continued that mastery April 28, allowing two runs in eight innings of a 6-2 road victory.

Lester, however, hasn’t come close to being that effective his last three trips to the mound, losing each behind a 10.54 ERA. He was pounded by the Yankees on Saturday, surrendering a season-high eight runs and eight hits in 2 2-3 innings of a 9-1 defeat.

“I stink,” Lester told the team’s official website. “If I had the answer, it wouldn’t happen. You go 32-0 every year if you had the answer of why you stink sometimes. It just happens. It’s part of baseball.

“It’s just one of those deals. I’ve been getting my (butt) kicked lately. It’s not a good time to have this stretch.”

Ryan Lavarnway is expected to complete the battery with Lester. The rookie came up big Tuesday, hitting the first two homers of his career while collecting four RBIs as he filled in for the injured Jarrod Saltalamacchia (bruised collarbone).

The Orioles would like to spoil the Red Sox’s playoff hopes by capping a 14th consecutive losing season with an 11th win in 16 games.

Alfredo Simon (4-9, 4.85) takes the mound looking to win for the first time since beating Minnesota on Aug. 23. The right-hander is 0-3 with a 6.00 ERA in six starts since, including two losses in four games at Camden Yards.

Simon, though, was impressive at AL Central champion Detroit on Friday, allowing three runs and six hits in eight innings of a 4-3 loss in 11.

“I would just like to see him do it consistently,” manager Buck Showalter told the team’s official website. “It is there. I’d just like to see him do it more often.”

Simon lost his only career start against the Red Sox on July 9, yielding three runs and eight hits with three walks in 4 2-3 innings of a 4-0 defeat at Fenway Park.