By TAYLOR BECHTOLD
(AP) — The Baltimore Orioles haven’t been in jeopardy of losing their big division lead, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t feeling better after snapping their road losing streak.
After Nelson Cruz almost single-handedly led them to a victory, the AL East-leading Orioles hope to build on their late scoring surge when they open a three-game road series against the Boston Red Sox on Monday night.
Although Baltimore has averaged 6.8 runs and hit .304 in its last 16 home games, the club had totaled six runs with a .168 average during a season-worst five-game road skid.
The Orioles (83-59) put up just two runs on five hits through the first eight innings Sunday before ending their slump by scoring five times in the final three for a much-needed 7-5, 11-inning victory at Tampa Bay.
Cruz practically turned things around on his own, going 4 for 5 with two home runs, a triple and all seven RBIs as Baltimore pushed its division lead back up to 9 1/2 games.
The slugger delivered a go-ahead, bases-clearing triple in the ninth inning before adding his MLB-best 39th home run in the 11th. He has five homers and 13 RBIs in his last eight games and has hit four homers with 12 RBIs in his 13 versus Boston.
The Orioles might not need a ton of extra runs as they give the ball to Miguel Gonzalez (8-7, 3.38 ERA). The right-hander has limited opponents to two runs or fewer while going at least six innings in eight of his last nine starts.
Gonzalez has allowed just three runs over 22 1-3 inning in three starts since a nearly three-week stint in the minors. He recorded his first career shutout Wednesday, surrendering four hits and striking out eight in a 6-0 home win over Cincinnati.
“We’re going to have to continue to pitch well,” manager Buck Showalter told MLB’s official website. “I know the Red Sox will. We’re going to be facing three good young arms. And they’ve got a lot of good young players who are trying to prove themselves.”
Gonzalez has gone 3-0 with a 2.70 mark in four career starts versus Boston (63-80). He did not get a decision in a 3-2 road loss July 5 despite allowing one earned run over eight innings.
Red Sox outfielder Yoenis Cespedes is batting .356 over his last 14 games and hitting .333 with three home runs in his last 16 games against the Orioles. David Ortiz is batting .381 with two homers in this season series.
Boston hopes to avoid its 16th loss in 21 home games after failing to sweep visiting Toronto in Sunday’s 3-1 defeat.
The rotation has struggled during this stretch with a 6.62 ERA. Rubby De La Rosa provided the latest poor outing Sunday, allowing three runs, two walks and seven hits in just four innings.
Joe Kelly (1-1, 3.89) will try to reverse that ugly trend as he makes his first career start against the Orioles. He’s coming off his first win with the Red Sox on Tuesday, allowing three runs over 6 2-3 innings in a 9-4 win at Yankee Stadium.
“It was definitely fun,” the right-hander said. “When you have the lead, you want to attack their hitters right away and get your hitters back in when they’re going hot like that.”
The Red Sox have dropped seven of 13 in the season series, including four of seven at Fenway.
Updated September 7, 2014