BOSTON -- For a few moments in the bottom of the seventh inning on Monday night, it was hard to believe that the Red Sox had been so out of sorts the last few weeks.
There was Jacoby Ellsbury, belting one to the triangle area in right-center and having the ball take the most generous carom imaginable off the side railing of the bullpen. It was a rare inside-the-park home run in which a slide wasn't even necessary.
And six batters later, Conor Jackson made his first big impact since coming to Boston on Aug. 31, ripping a grand slam that soared over the Green Monster.
Amid a most stressful point in their season, the Red Sox had some relief as they went on to notch an 18-9 romp over the Orioles in the nightcap of a day-night doubleheader.
During the seven-run eruption in that seventh, the crowd was roaring like it was before September started. And the dugout was also full of smiles.
It has been a while for the Red Sox.
"I said earlier today, we need to have fun," said Jackson. "We're stressing out a little bit too much. We need to go out and we need to play baseball and just have fun. Go back to how it was when we were 12 years old. That's what's going to get us back on track."
The Sox lost the opener, 6-5. By salvaging a split, they finished the day the same way they started it -- two games ahead of the Rays in the American League's Wild Card standings. There are eight games left for Boston.
"At this point, we just need wins," said infielder Jed Lowrie, who returned to the lineup for the first time in six days with a three-run homer. "We don't need anything else. It was a big win and we've just got to use the momentum from tonight and carry it into tomorrow and the rest of the year."
Perhaps Monday night's late-game heroics were a sign that fortunes are ready to change for the Red Sox, who are 5-14 in September.
"It's a nice win and we control our own destiny at this point," said Ellsbury. "So we know if we go out and play baseball like we can, we'll be in good shape."
One thing that didn't change was the woes of the starting rotation. John Lackey struggled, giving up 11 hits and eight runs over 4 1/3 innings. The righty walked two and struck out three, and he was two outs short of being able to qualify for the win.
It was the eighth time in Boston's 19 games this month that the starting pitcher failed to go five innings.
"I can't explain it, man," Lackey said. "That's the best I've felt in the bullpen warming up all year. I don't know what the [heck] happened."
The inside-the-parker by Ellsbury was the first by a Boston player since Kevin Youkilis on May 28, 2007, against the Indians. Ellsbury stole home in 2009, but this was his first inside-the-park home run.
"Definitely stealing home [was more satisfying], but the inside-the-park home run was fun as well," said Ellsbury. "But I got to give it to the steal of home."
Many players go their entire careers without doing either. David Ortiz expects he'll be one of them.
"I haven't seen him run like that in a while because he's always going deep," Ortiz said. "He's just getting himself in trouble. People are going to expect 30 bombs every year."
The homer was No. 28 on the season for Ellsbury.
Then there was Jackson, who laced his granny into the Monster Seats.
"We stayed after them and got some big hits, especially with Conor Jackson and the grand slam," said manager Terry Francona. "We had a lot of good at-bats."
It was the first time the Red Sox have had an inside-the-park homer and a grand slam in the same inning.
As for Lackey, he was shaky from the outset and never got into any kind of groove. The Orioles tagged him for three in the top of the first.
Fortunately for the Red Sox, they would have plenty of answers in this one. Ellsbury led off the first with a single that would have been a double, had he not fallen down taking his turn from first. With one out, Adrian Gonzalez smoked a single. Dustin Pedroia got a run home on a fielder's choice. Ortiz then belted one high off the Green Monster.
Lowrie's homer came in his first at-bat, as he pummeled it well over the Monster. It was his first homer in 84 at-bats.
"It felt great," Lowrie said. "I think the shot helped. It kind of calmed the area down. It gave me the chance to have a little bit of bat speed. I think the shot so far has helped more than anything else."
Just like that, Boston had a 4-3 lead.
"We had a lot of good at-bats against Lackey and we felt like we might be able to get back in it," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who noted that if his club got a shutdown inning from starter lefty Brian Matusz and tacked on more runs vs. a reeling Lackey, the outcome could have been different. "We just couldn't stem the tide out of the bullpen. We tried many things but couldn't get many zeroes up there."
Matusz was having even more trouble than Lackey, so much so that he didn't even make it out of the second inning. With two on and one out, Marco Scutaro, who has been red-hot, ripped an RBI double. Darnell McDonald was thrown out at third, seeming to slip after catching third-base coach Tim Bogar's stop sign too late. Pedroia's RBI single made it 6-3, Boston.
Instead of settling in as his cushion grew, Lackey continued to allow the Orioles to get closer. Nolan Reimold ripped a two-out RBI single to right to slim the lead to one.
"Tonight, like I said, physically, arm-strength-wise, I felt about as good as I have all year," Lackey said. "I had the inning where I had two guys out, runner got on with a strikeout, ended up giving up two runs. Then I had [a] bases-loaded bloop that falls in on me for another two runs. I don't know, man."
But the Sox erupted again, this time for a five-spot in the bottom of the third. Ellsbury, Gonzalez, Pedroia and Ortiz all had RBI hits, but not even an 11-5 lead was safe.
The Orioles kept rallying against Lackey, getting one in the fourth and two more in the fifth. Vladimir Guerrero's RBI double in the sixth made it a two-run game.
The momentum changed for good on that inside-the-park homer by Ellsbury, which led off the seventh. Pedroia's RBI single made the lead more comfortable again at 13-9. Jackson's grand slam made it a full-fledged rout.
"We're playing hard," said Pedroia. "We're grinding. We don't care [how]. We've just got to win. That's it."