BALTIMORE -- The Red Sox were 53-28 at Fenway Park this season, the best home record in the league by a game over the Athletics (52-29) and two games better than the Tigers and Rays (51-30), all three teams the Sox could meet in the postseason.
Having the home-field advantage in October mattered to them, they said, from John Farrell on down, and now they have it.
Two years to the night that the Sox were eliminated from the playoffs on the last day of the season here in Oriole Park at Camden Yards, they took the field Saturday night against the Orioles already assured of their goal, the Athletics having lost to the Mariners just moments earlier.
A game shorn of urgency instead became an exercise in advance preparation for the postseason, though the Sox still took it to the last out before falling 6-5 to the Orioles before a crowd of 36,556. Jonny Gomes took a called, full-count third strike from Orioles closer Jim Johnson with the tying run on second base to end it.
Left-hander Jon Lester, the likely choice to pitch the division series opener Friday in Boston, pitched five innings and came away with a no-decision in his final regular-season start of 2013, his 15-8 record and 3.75 ERA a quantum leap from last year's 9-14 and 4.82 ERA.
Left-handed reliever Matt Thornton, auditioning for a spot in the postseason bullpen, pitched a clean sixth inning. Junichi Tazawa gave the Sox a three-up, three-down seventh, then gave up back-to-back singles in the eighth that ultimately turned into the game's deciding runs when Steve Pearce doubled off lefty Franklin Morales after he'd just whiffed Nick Markakis.
The win assured the Orioles of winning the season series against the Red Sox. They lead 10-8. The Sox are 36-21 (.632) against the rest of the division.
Daniel Nava, bidding to finish the season with a .300 average, had four hits, matching a career high, to raise his average to .303. Dustin Pedroia went 3-for-5, giving him six hits in the past two nights and raising his average to .301. Gomes, Stephen Drew and David Ross had two hits apiece.