BALTIMORE — Even on a day when Boston left-hander Chris Sale was not at his best, he was still good enough to beat the Baltimore Orioles … again.
Sale won his sixth straight decision, Andrew Benintendi homered twice and the Red Sox split a four-game series against Baltimore with a 7-3 victory on Sunday.
The Red Sox head to New York with a chance to take over first place in the American League East with three games against the Yankees starting Tuesday. The Orioles also get a day off before resuming interleague play against visiting Pittsburgh.
“We’re neck-and-neck with this team, and this division is going to be bunched up for the foreseeable future,” said Boston manager John Farrell, whose team gained the split after dropping the first two games. “To get out of here even instead of being down 3-1, it’s a big swing day for us.”
Sale (7-2) has won his past four starts against Baltimore. He allowed three runs and six hits with nine strikeouts and one walk in six innings. He leads the majors with 119 Ks.
“It’s the job of a starting pitcher, fill up as many innings as you can,” Sale said. “This team can do anything at any time, anywhere, any inning, against anybody. Having that going forward is kind of the thing that picked me up today.”
Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman (1-3) retired nine straight batters before allowing a leadoff single to Mitch Moreland in the sixth. Tillman then loaded the bases on two walks. After striking out Sandy Leon, the Red Sox took a 5-3 lead when a pickoff throw by Orioles catcher Francisco Pena sailed past third baseman Manny Machado into left field and scored two runs.
“It was a tough play right there,” Pena said. “I had it in front of me. I just think I hesitated a little bit. I didn’t see Manny because Moreland was right in front of the line. I just tried to be too quick, tried to put a perfect throw, and I messed it up right there.”
An inning later, Benintendi produced the first multi-homer game of his career with a solo shot off Mike Wright that boosted the lead to 6-3. Benintendi, who has seven home runs, also had an RBI single in the ninth that rounded out the scoring.
Tillman, making his sixth start since coming off the DL, allowed five runs (three earned) and six hits with three strikeouts and four walks in six innings. He has not won since May 7.
“I think he found his way and got through,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said about Tillman. “You knew when they scored and got ahead he was going to go to another level. He was good, but I thought our guys were good off him. They got a bunch of good arms. You look at all the arms they run out at you, it’s a challenge.”
The Red Sox have won 10 of their past 14 games.
Jackie Bradley Jr. provided a 2-0 lead with a two-out, bases-loaded single in the first inning. The Orioles responded in the bottom half on a single by Chris Davis that scored Joey Rickard and Manny Machado, who advanced on a double steal. Two batters later, Jonathan Schoop provided a 3-2 lead with an RBI double to left.
Sale had not allowed a first-inning run in his previous 11 starts this year.
Benintendi tied the score 3-3 with a solo shot to lead off the third.