They are still the top two teams in the AL, however, heading into a day-night doubleheader at Fenway Park on Friday that will open a four-game series.
The Red Sox (72-48) and Angels (70-49) will be making up a game that was postponed on April 15 in the afternoon. In the three games Boston and Los Angeles were able to play during that abbreviated series at Fenway, the Red Sox outscored the Angels 25-3.
Los Angeles is going through some more road issues currently. The Angels improved to 8-14 away from Anaheim since July 3 with a 4-3 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday to avoid a three-game sweep.
“We didn’t want to get swept,” said starter Kelvim Escobar, whose team is 3 1/2 games ahead of the Seattle Mariners in the AL West. “It was a very important game for us. Seattle is right behind us and we’ve got to win as many games as possible.”
Los Angeles has not won a road series since taking two of three against the Baltimore Orioles from June 29-July 1. The Angels are just 6-15 at Fenway Park since 2003.
Boston, meanwhile, has a 5 1/2-game division lead over the New York Yankees after leading by as many as 14 1/2 on May 29. The Red Sox won two of three this week against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays to improve to 8-6 in August, while the Yankees lost their third straight on Thursday to give Boston some breathing room.
Third baseman Mike Lowell said the team’s mentality hasn’t been affected by the pressure from the Yankees.
“I don’t think our attitude has changed,” he said. “I think we’re focusing on each series, If you win the first two games of the series, you definitely want to sweep, but if we keep winning two out of three, we’re going to be just fine.”
Fifteen-game winners John Lackey (15-6, 3.07 ERA) of Los Angeles and Josh Beckett (15-5, 3.24) of Boston will both pitch in the doubleheader, but not against each other. Lackey had been scheduled for the night game originally, but manager Mike Scioscia opted to start him in the opener rather than take advantage of his 12-3 night record.
Scioscia denied that the decision had anything to do with having Lackey avoid facing Beckett.
“John would welcome the matchup with Beckett,” Scioscia told the Angels’ official Web site. “That’s not the reason we’re lining him up this way. He went to Boston (early Thursday). To have him ready to go, rather than waiting around, is better for him.”
Lackey won his third straight start by allowing two runs and 10 hits in eight innings last Saturday against the Minnesota Twins in a 4-3 victory.
The right-hander is 1-5 with a 5.75 ERA in 10 starts against Boston. He allowed three runs and nine hits in 5 2-3 innings on April 13 in a 10-1 loss.
Clay Buchholz will make his major league debut for the Red Sox opposite Lackey. The 23-year-old right-hander is 8-3 with a 2.15 ERA in 22 games combined at Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket this season, and is averaging nearly 13 strikeouts per nine innings in 22 minor league games.
The highly-touted prospect was the 42nd player chosen in the 2005 draft.
Beckett won his second straight road start by giving up two runs and eight hits in 8 2-3 innings last Saturday at Baltimore in a 6-2 win. He has an AL-leading 1.65 road ERA.
It’s been a different story for the right-hander at home, where he is just 2-4 with a 5.68 ERA in his last six outings.
Beckett gave up one run and six hits in six innings on April 16 in a 7-2 win over the Angels to improve to 2-0 with a 2.50 ERA in three starts against them.
Ervin Santana (5-11, 6.22) opposed Beckett in that outing and will be called up from Triple-A Salt Lake to start the second game for the Angels. He gave up seven runs - five earned - and seven hits in four innings to fall to 1-2 with a 7.47 ERA in three starts against Boston.
Santana went 0-4 with an 11.74 ERA in his last four starts for the Angels before he was sent down to the minors on July 18. He’s 1-9 with an 8.79 ERA in 11 outings on the road this year.