Lowell drives in five as surging Red Sox near title

Hero: Lowell has a team-leading 116 RBIs, surprisingly two more than David Ortiz.

Unsung hero: In his second game back in the lineup after a long absence, Manny Ramirez went 3-for-3 with an RBI and two runs.

Hunt for October: The Red Sox's lead in the East is three games after the Yankees clinched the wild card with a win over the Devil Rays.

Quotable: "We were happy being in the playoffs with the wild card. But we played good all year. We wanted to see if we could win the division. It hasn't been done in a while." -- Ortiz on the Red Sox trying to win the East for the first time in 12 years

-- ESPN.com news services

Red Sox 11, Athletics 6

BOSTON (AP) -- Mike Lowell got a souvenir of his best season and drove the Red Sox closer to another memorable achievement -- their first division title in 12 years.

With Boston's magic number down to two, that could come Thursday night for a team that is improving its hitting and health at just the right time.

"We were happy being in the playoffs with the wild card," David Ortiz said after Lowell drove in five runs in an 11-6 win over the Oakland Athletics on Wednesday. "But we played good all year. We wanted to see if we could win the division. It hasn't been done in a while."

Lowell led a 17-hit attack with three singles and kept the ball that gave him the team record for RBIs by a third baseman on a two-run single in the third. He finished the night with 116 RBIs, surpassing Butch Hobson's 112 in 1977.

"I take a lot of pride in it," Lowell said. "I just didn't know about it until about two weeks ago when I got close. There's been a lot of good players that have played third base in this organization. I'll treasure it."

The Red Sox increased their AL East lead to three games over the New York Yankees, who clinched a playoff spot by winning at Tampa Bay. Boston won for the fourth time in five games after a four-game losing streak in which it struggled at the plate, scoring just eight runs and allowing its lead to shrink to 1½ games.

Boston begins a four-game series against Minnesota at home Thursday night that ends the regular season.

Lowell increased his batting average to a career-best .326 and has avoided his usual second-half slump. He's done an outstanding job filling in for Manny Ramirez as cleanup hitter. Ramirez missed 24 games with a strained muscle in his left side before batting second Tuesday and Wednesday and going 4-for-5.

"He's been great all year," Dustin Pedroia, one of four Red Sox with three hits, said of Lowell. "We've counted on him all year. Manny gets hurt and Mike steps up."

Now Ramirez is back. So is first baseman Kevin Youkilis, who missed seven games with a bruised right wrist before pinch-hitting in Tuesday night's 7-3 win over Oakland and going 1-for-3 Wednesday.

"They got a few guys back and they're gaining momentum into the postseason," Oakland manager Bob Geren said, "just what they need to do."

The Red Sox will play the Los Angeles Angels or Cleveland Indians in the AL division series.

Ramirez went 3-for-3 with an RBI and two runs one day after going 1-for-2. He went to right field with two of his hits and to center field with the other two.

"It's like in spring training, the first few days of spring training," Boston manager Terry Francona said. "You'll never see him pull a ball."

Mike Piazza, whose fifth-inning homer tied the game at 5, isn't surprised that Ramirez is hitting well after missing nearly a month.

"He still has quick hands. He's a huge run producer," Piazza said. "He's not afraid to get jammed and hit the other way."

Pedroia's leadoff homer off Jerry Blevins (0-1) started a four-run sixth inning and broke the tie.

Ramirez then walked, Ortiz doubled him to third and Lowell singled both home. Lowell took third when center fielder Nick Swisher misplayed J.D. Drew's long fly ball for a two-base error and scored on Jacoby Ellsbury's groundout.

Lowell, who can become a free agent after this season, is having the best of his nine seasons. Ortiz had a single and two doubles, giving him a career-high of 50, and Pedroia doubled twice and hit his eighth homer.

Mike Timlin (2-1) entered the game with two outs and a runner at first in the sixth, with the score tied at 5. He needed one pitch to retire Piazza on a foul popup to third baseman Lowell.

Boston starter Jon Lester had a season-high nine strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings but allowed Piazza's eighth homer, a solo shot that tied the game. Lester walked the next batter and was relieved by Kyle Snyder.

Oakland had taken a 1-0 lead in the third on Swisher's sacrifice fly. Boston made it 3-1 in the bottom of the inning on Lowell's two-run single and Drew's sacrifice fly. Oakland jumped ahead on Donnie Murphy's three-run homer, his sixth of the season, in the fourth.

Then Boston took a 5-4 lead in the fourth on RBI singles by Ramirez and Lowell.

"It's great to have [Ramirez] back and Youk in there," Pedroia said. "We're getting healthy. We're getting there."

Game notes
Piazza's homer was his 427th and moved him into 39th place in major league history ahead of Billy Williams of the Chicago Cubs. ... Lester is 6-0 in his last 14 starts starting on Aug. 13, 2006, but his ERA in that span is 5.54. ... Jack Cust had three strikeouts and leads the AL with 160 in 385 at-bats. ... Ellsbury singled in the fifth and has hit safely in 21 of his 22 games since being recalled on Sept. 1 from Triple-A Pawtucket. He has reached base in 26 straight games. ... Timlin tied Roberto Hernandez for 10th on the all-time list with 1,010 appearances.