The Boston Red Sox’s lead in the AL East is slowly shrinking, but they’re not panicking yet.
They’ll look to put a little more room between themselves and the rest of the division Tuesday when they continue their three-game series with the Los Angeles Angels in a matchup between two first-place teams.
The Red Sox had a 12-game lead over the New York Yankees and Toronto on July 5, but have gone 15-13 since then. Their 4-2 loss in Monday’s opener reduced their lead to six games over the second-place Yankees - their smallest margin since May 11.
Boston’s last lead of fewer than six games was on May 6, when they were 5 1/2 games ahead of New York.
“There’s no concern,” Boston’s Curt Schilling said. “It’s still on us. We have absolutely total control of our situation.”
Schilling pitched for the first time since June 18 after a stint on the disabled list with tendinitis in his shoulder. He gave up Maicer Izturis’ tiebreaking homer in the seventh, and Casey Kotchman drove in two runs for Los Angeles.
Despite the loss, the Red Sox hope Schilling’s return will provide a spark.
“If we have Curt back the whole rest of the season, pitching like he’s able to, it should enhance our chances of winning,” Boston manager Terry Francona said.
Monday’s loss also ended Boston’s five-game winning streak against the Angels, who lead the AL West by four games over second-place Seattle. Los Angeles has won eight of its last 12 games and has owned at least a share of the division lead since April 25.
The Angels led their division by as many as eight games over the Mariners on June 24.
Wakefield, who has gotten a decision in each of his starts this season, gave up three runs in seven innings of a 7-4 win over Baltimore on Thursday to celebrate his 41st birthday. Wakefield’s sixth win in seven starts also was his 150th with Boston.
Wakefield is 9-10 with a 4.54 ERA in 26 career appearances - 21 starts - against the Angels and has won his last two starts against them. He gave up one run in seven innings of a 10-1 home win on April 13 in his only start against them this season.
Vladimir Guerrero is hitting .467 (7-for-15) with four homers against Wakefield. He’s 2-for-8 with no homers, though, over his last three games since connecting for two homers in back-to-back games at Oakland on Wednesday and Thursday.
The Angels will hand the ball to Joe Saunders (5-0, 3.10), who has won seven straight decisions dating to last season. He has split time in the majors and minors this year, but is 2-0 with a 3.32 ERA in three starts since his latest recall.
Saunders gave up two runs in 6 2-3 innings of Thursday’s 6-4 win over the A’s. The Angels have won each of his seven starts since falling in his season debut against the A’s on April 5.
“He’s making a statement,” Los Angeles manager Mike Scioscia said. “He’s got the opportunity and he’s certainly bringing his game to the major leagues every time out.”
Saunders’ only previous start against Boston came on Aug. 22 when he allowed two unearned runs in 5 2-3 innings without getting a decision in the Angels’ 4-3 home win.