Los Angeles (52-49) at Boston (61-39)

Partly Cloudy Currently: Boston, MA
Temp: 82° F
  • Game info: 7:05 pm EDT Fri Jul 28, 2006
Preview | Box Score | Recap

The Boston Red Sox have made the playoffs in each of the last three seasons. What they haven’t done is win the AL East.

The Red Sox (61-39) look to get back on track and solidify their precarious hold on the top spot in the division when they open a three-game home series against the surging Los Angeles Angels (52-49) on Friday night.

Boston captured the wild card from 2003-05, and went on to its first World Series title in 86 years in ’04. The Red Sox, though, haven’t captured the division title since 1995, with the archrival New York Yankees finishing first eight straight years and nine of the last 10.

This season, the Red Sox have matched the record of the ’95 club through 100 games, and hold a 1 1/2 -game lead over the Yankees as they try to finally wrest control of the division away from New York.

“You just don’t know. There’s too much baseball (left),” manager Terry Francona said. “It changes from week to week. Just play. It’s up and down. It’s part of the game. If you get carried away with it, you just get overwhelmed. You just play and hope you’re good enough.”

The Red Sox have been doing that of late, winning seven of their last 10, although they managed to go only 3-3 on a West Coast road trip through Seattle and Oakland.

The trip ended Wednesday with a 5-1 loss to the Athletics, as Red Sox starter Kyle Snyder allowed five runs and 10 hits, including two homers by Frank Thomas, in six innings.

Boston managed just four hits, though one of those was a Manny Ramirez double that extended his hitting streak to 12 games.

Ramirez, whose .315 batting average leads the team, is hitting .419 (18-for-43) with four homers and 14 RBIs during the streak.

Boston rookie Jon Lester (5-0, 3.04 ERA) looks to continue his impressive pitching Friday when he faces the Angels for the first time.

Lester, though, struggled in his last outing, as he gave up five runs and eight hits in five innings Sunday in the Red Sox’s 9-8 defeat. The left-hander saw his ERA rise from 2.38 to 3.04 after he allowed more than three runs for the first time in nine major league outings.

Still, Lester remains the first rookie left-hander in team history to win his first five decisions. If he improves to 6-0, he’ll become the first Boston pitcher to open his major league career with six victories since Aaron Sele in 1993.

Lester will try to do that against a red-hot Los Angeles club that improved to 17-5 in July with a 15-6 win over Tampa Bay on Wednesday. The victory upped the Angels’ record to 4-3 on their 10-game road trip as they kept pace in the battle for first place in the tight AL West, in which the four teams are separated by three games.

Kelvim Escobar (6-9, 3.88) is scheduled to make his 19th start of the season for Los Angeles on Friday.

Escobar came off the 15-day disabled list Saturday and pitched well in the Angels’ 4-3, 10-inning win at Kansas City, throwing seven innings of three-run ball.

Escobar, who hadn’t pitched since July 6 due to elbow inflammation, gave up all his runs in the first inning and allowed only four hits the rest of the way.

“I think I was like testing my elbow,” Escobar said. “It’s normal. It’s been a while, a couple of weeks since I’ve been out there.”

Escobar is 5-6 with a 4.66 ERA in 34 games—nine starts—against Boston in his career. He last beat the Red Sox on July 18, 2003, when he allowed one run in seven innings of a 4-1 victory while pitching for Toronto.

Boston is 21-14 against Los Angeles since the start of 2002 and hasn’t lost the season series since going 3-4 against the Angels in 2001.

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Starting Pitchers

K. Escobar Mil vs. J. Lester ChC
11-14 Record 7-2
3.61 ERA 4.76
147 K 60
50 BB 43
1.28 WHIP 1.65