- The Washington Times - Monday, July 14, 2008

BOSTON | David Ortiz is getting ready to return to a first-place team.

Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched six scoreless innings, and the Boston Red Sox reclaimed the AL East lead going into the All-Star break, defeating the Baltimore Orioles 2-1 on Sunday.

The Red Sox moved a half-game ahead of Tampa Bay and took the division lead for the first time since June 28. Boston trailed by a season-high five games last weekend, then won five of six while the Rays lost seven straight.

“I was talking trash to my teammates to make sure they got back in first place before I came back,” Ortiz said. “I can’t wait to start playing again, and I am feeling good.”

Ortiz has missed 39 games because of an injured wrist. The All-Star slugger is expected to return in time for a series against the rival New York Yankees on July 25.

Ortiz will be among seven Red Sox players joining manager Terry Francona and his coaching staff at the All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium.

The Red Sox went into the break with the best home record in the majors at 36-11.

“We came into the homestand down five games, but this shows anything can happen, and hopefully we can keep rolling,” reliever Manny Delcarmen said.

Matsuzaka (10-1) struggled with his control but worked around four hits and five walks. Jonathan Papelbon escaped in the ninth for his 28th save of the season and 100th of his career.

“I would’ve liked to have done it without giving up a run,” Papelbon said. “One hundred down and hopefully 300, 400 more to go.”

Baltimore lost for the sixth time in seven games and dropped its 14th straight Sunday game. The major league record for consecutive losses on a specific day is 21 - the 1939 St. Louis Browns and 1890 Pittsburgh Innocents both did it on Tuesdays.

Matsuzaka helped himself by snaring Melvin Mora’s hard comebacker with the bases loaded to end the fifth and has given up just one run in his last 23 1/3 innings. Only twice in 16 starts has he allowed more than three runs.

Even with his impressive record and a 2.65 ERA, Matsuzaka is not among Boston’s representatives in the All-Star Game.

“When he locates, he’s as good as there is,” Francona said. “He created some jams for himself, but fortunately they did not string together a couple of hits.”

Daniel Cabrera (6-5) fell to 2-10 lifetime against Boston. He somehow managed to only allow one earned run despite permitting 13 runners in 4 1/3 innings.

“He competed today and did not give in,” Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. “This is a tough one to lose. We needed one hit, one pitch a little different, but we played our hearts out.”

After Red Sox relievers Hideki Okajima and Delcarmen combined for two scoreless innings, Papelbon took over in the ninth with a 2-0 lead. Brian Roberts and Adam Jones singled with one out, and Aubrey Huff hit an RBI single with two outs before Mora lined out to end it.

J.D. Drew gave the Red Sox a 1-0 lead when he doubled home Dustin Pedroia in the first inning. Pedroia hit .440 over the last 20 games and finished with 124 hits at the break, one shy of the franchise record shared by Wade Boggs and Nomar Garciaparra.

Pedroia drove in the game-winning run in the fourth with a groundout.

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