If the suddenly stumbling and bumbling Boston Red Sox fail to make the playoffs, some credit must go to the perennial basement dwellers of the American League East.
For the seventh time in nine games, the last-place Orioles inexplicably have beaten a playoff contender.
On Wednesday night, before an increasingly nervous, sellout crowd of 38,004 at Fenway Park, Mark Reynolds hit two homers and the Orioles beat the AL wild-card-leading Red Sox, 6-4.
"Our guys have had a good look on their face for about two weeks now," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "Some people might say they see the finish line, but I don't see it that way. They are competitive."
The Orioles (65-90) had dropped their first five in Boston this season but won three of four this week, their first four-game series victory at Fenway Park since 2003. The Red Sox, meanwhile, are 5-16 in September -- the second-worst record in the majors this month.
"We just can't really explain what's going on," said Boston left fielder Carl Crawford, who had three hits, including a two-run double and a triple. "We're having a little breakdown, but we still got a few games left and we can still get in. We just got to finish strong. But it's definitely confusing when we're playing this way."
Boston (88-68) actually gained a half-game in the wild-card standings Wednesday because the New York Yankees swept a doubleheader against the Tampa Bay Rays, who are 2 1/2 games behind the Red Sox now.
Reynolds was the primary party-crasher Wednesday with his fifth multi-homer game of the season. But Vladimir Guerrero, chasing his own goal, dealt the fatal blow, a two-run single in the eighth to break a tie at 4.
"He's a great guy in the clubhouse, a great guy to be around and learn from," Reynolds said about Guerrero. "He's a special player. I'll definitely be getting a signed ball from him before the year is over."
Guerrero, who is four hits shy of becoming major league baseball's all-time hits leader from the Dominican Republic, clapped his hands and pointed to the dugout when he reached first base after the key single.
"This milestone coming up is a huge deal to us," Showalter said. "If you think about all the great players who have played here from the Dominican Republic, and we've got a chance to have on our team one that's got a chance to go down as the all-time hits leader. That's something we are so proud of as an organization."
The going-nowhere Orioles are enjoying this recent ride, which includes 10 wins in 15 games and the first time this season they've won three straight series.
"We are pretty good, that's the bottom line," said Orioles starter Tommy Hunter, who allowed four earned runs in 6 2/3 innings in a no decision. "This is a baseball team. These guys come to play every day."
The Orioles got their initial run, and first hit, against Josh Beckett in the second, when Reynolds crushed a 91 mph cut fastball far over the Green Monster in left field and into the parking lot below. The two-out smash was Reynolds' 35th homer of the season; he's the first Oriole to reach that mark since Albert Belle hit 37 in 1999.
The Orioles didn't pick up another hit or run against Beckett until the sixth, when Robert Andino singled to left, stole second and scored on a single up the middle by J.J. Hardy. It cut the deficit to 4-2.
Reynolds tied it in the seventh with a two-run homer that landed in the Green Monster seats. It was the 14th career multi-homer game for Reynolds, who had been 1-for-8 with no homers or RBIs against Beckett.
"He's got one of the best curveballs in the game, but he left it up [for the second homer]," Reynolds said. "It's funny -- sometimes when you get in there and sit on pitches, you miss them. I was just looking for something up."
Beckett (13-6) retired 16 of his first 18 batters before the consecutive singles in the sixth. But by the eighth, he had been charged with six runs on seven hits and a walk, wasting an eight-strikeout performance.
Hunter, coming off his best start of the season Friday when he shut out the Los Angeles Angels through seven innings, was serviceable Wednesday. But he had to leave in the seventh because of a right groin strain -- an injury that also shelved him this spring.
"It got pretty tight. It was one of those things, been lingering around all year," said Hunter, who gave up nine hits and a walk while striking out four. "I needed to come out."
He said he'll get some treatment this week and hopes to make his final start of the season Monday at Camden Yards against the Red Sox.
With Hunter out, Showalter called on relievers Clay Rapada (2-0), Willie Eyre and Jim Johnson (ninth save), who combined for 2 1/3 hitless and scoreless innings.
"There's a big difference when we're getting big hits and our bullpen is coming in and being lights-out. That's night and day from where we were earlier in the season," Reynolds said. "You look at all the good teams around the league, they got shut-down guys in the back end of the bullpen. And we've been inconsistent in that area.
"This series, it seemed like it all came together for us."
NOTES: Infielder Ryan Adams will undergo sports hernia surgery and miss the last week of the season. The surgery will be performed in Philadelphia, but the specifics are still being scheduled. Recovery time is considered three weeks. Adams, who hit .280 in 29 games as a rookie in 2011, said he has been bothered by a groin injury much of the season, but a recent MRI showed a tear.
Left-hander Troy Patton is expected to leave the team Thursday to attend a court-ordered orientation class in Texas as part of his offseason arrest on suspicion of DWI. He hopes to rejoin the team Friday in Detroit.
Thursday's starter, Zach Britton, flew to Detroit on Wednesday afternoon before the Orioles' game in Boston.
With his eighth-inning single, Guerrero extended his hitting streak to 10 games.