ANAHEIM -- It was just a week ago the Red Sox were in a state of early-season crisis. They weren't pitching, hitting and winning. Now? They have settled into a groove, getting tremendous starts every night and coming up with the big hit when they need it.
On Friday night, it was Jon Lester's turn to take the ball, and the ace lefty fired six shutout innings, leading the Sox to a 4-3 win over the Angels.
The team that started the season 2-10 has emerged from that nadir to rip off six wins in its last seven games.
During that seven-game stretch, the starters are 5-1 with a 1.19 ERA.
"Remember back about, I don't know, the middle of that homestand, somebody asked me, 'What's the best way to get it going?' I said, 'A time or two through the rotation where they give us a chance every night.' That's exactly what's happened," said manager Terry Francona.
Lester gave up four hits and two walks while striking out eight. He ran his record to 2-1 and improved his ERA to 2.59.
For Lester, it was kind of a grind-it-out special.
"I felt all right," said Lester. "Early on, I had good fastball command. That kind of got away from me a bit. I nitpicked a bit. There were a lot of deep counts, a lot of foul balls. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to go real deep in the game, but I just had to grind it out."
When Lester departed after 111 pitches, the Red Sox had a 4-0 lead. On a night Boston was without top setup man Daniel Bard, things got a little dicey.
Bobby Jenks came on with a three-run edge in the eighth, and the Angels nearly turned that around in a hurry. Howard Kendrick led off with a double to center, and Bobby Abreu ripped an RBI single up the middle. Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells then stung very loud fly balls that, fortunately for the Red Sox, landed safely into the mitts of J.D. Drew and Carl Crawford, respectively.
Abreu scooted to second on a wild pitch. And Jarrod Saltalamacchia committed a passed ball in which Abreu scored all the way from second. As the ball got by Saltalamacchia and rolled to the backstop, the catcher had no idea where the ball went and didn't chase after it.
"It was frustrating," Saltalamacchia said. "I've never done that before. I can't remember ever doing that, but we still got the win. I just lost it. It was one of those. It just hit off my glove. There were a couple of plays that game that hit off my glove. I knew what pitch was coming. It just kind of came off my glove and hit the backstop."
Jenks got the Red Sox out of the inning with a one-run lead, as Maicer Izturis grounded out to end the inning.
And in the ninth, Jonathan Papelbon came on and recorded his third save in as many days. The righty was masterful, throwing 12 pitches, 11 of them for strikes. Papelbon ended it by punching out Kendrick on 95-mph heat for his fifth save.
"I think it shows how hard he's worked," said Francona. "Sometimes you expect a guy to command but maybe drop off a little bit with stuff. His stuff was phenomenal."
Facing a pitcher in Dan Haren who had been nothing short of filthy in his first four starts (4-0, 1.16 ERA), the Boston bats did enough to win. Jacoby Ellsbury and Drew both had RBI hits, and the Red Sox got a couple of more runs when center fielder Peter Bourjos dropped a Crawford fly ball for a two-run error in the fourth.
"His stuff is tremendous," said Francona. "He's got deception. He throws strikes with that split, the cutter, the fastball. He's tough. And again, we made him work hard. That was part of the reason we won."
Both aces looked dominant through the first two innings. The Red Sox found the first crack in Haren in the top of the third, when Saltalamacchia drilled a one-out double to center. Saltalamacchia, who limped into second on his hit, then hustled to third on a flyout to right by Marco Scutaro, sliding in just in time. Ellsbury followed with a double to right, putting Boston in front.
While the Angels started to work Lester in the middle innings, they didn't have any runs to show for it. Meanwhile, the Red Sox got a break in the fourth. After a walk to Jed Lowrie and a double to right by Drew, Crawford hit what looked to be the final out of the inning. But Bourjos dropped the ball on a basket-catch attempt for an error and two runs scored.
"It was kind of a 'tweener," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, "but it was up there long enough that somebody should have been camped under it. [It was] not a Bermuda Triangle. Peter wasn't aggressive enough. There's a chance there's going to be some indecision. Peter's a tremendous center fielder; that's one play he's going to learn from."
It was Lowrie who got things started again for the Sox in the sixth, ripping a blast to the wall in left-center that was good for a double. It turned out even better, as Lowrie moved to third when left fielder Vernon Wells bobbled the ball against the wall. Drew then laced an RBI single to center -- through a drawn-in infield -- and Lester had a 4-0 lead.
The way things turned out, he needed every bit of it.
More often than not, if the starter sets a good tone, the Red Sox are going to win. The last week has proved it.
"I think the rotation has gotten in a little bit of a rhythm and we can just build off of each other's starts," said Lester. "I know it's been said in the past as far as competition, but guys just build off each other. Just like hitters, you build off each other in an inning. A guy gets a hit, you build off that."