Bonded by tragedy, the Boston Red Sox are on the verge of coming home with their longest winning streak in a year.
Doing so would also mean sweeping their first series against their former manager.
A close group to begin with, the Red Sox (10-4) have become even tighter since the bombings at the Boston Marathon. After they arrived Monday from Boston, just hours after the explosions near the marathon finish line, manager John Farrell said 22 players went out to an impromptu dinner together in downtown Cleveland.
"I don't want to downplay the events that we just left in Boston, but I think what we've quickly come to see is a group that likes to be around one another," Farrell said. "Those are encouraging signs."
The team is also trying to be a source of healing, and in a display of unity has hung a jersey that reads "617 Boston Strong" - featuring the city's area code - in the dugout.
The Red Sox scored all their runs in the second inning Tuesday while opening this series with a 7-2 victory, then scored three in the first in Wednesday's 6-3 win.
"A good all-around game," Farrell said. "A very good game."
A sweep of Francona's Indians would give the Red Sox their first six-game winning streak since April 23-28. They return to Fenway Park to open a 10-game homestand against Kansas City on Friday.
Lester (2-0, 1.42 ERA) will try to keep the Sox rolling after three very solid starts to begin the year. The left-hander allowed one run and five hits in seven innings in his latest outing, Saturday's 2-1 win over Tampa Bay in 10 innings.
But it's pitching against Francona that seems to be at the front of his mind.
"It's going to be a little weird," Lester told the team's official website. "I look forward to it, catching up a little bit. I haven't seen him in a while, but yeah, it's definitely going to be a little awkward seeing him in that Indians uniform rather than the Red Sox.
"Now, he's on the other side, so we have to do the same thing he taught us to do - go out there and not worry about that stuff and try to compete and win."
Lester is 2-0 and has yielded one run with 28 strikeouts in 19 innings over his last three visits to Cleveland.
Francona is expected to turn to Zach McAllister (1-1, 2.19), who is looking to build on a solid performance from Saturday's 9-4 win over the White Sox. He allowed three runs - one earned - and five hits with six strikeouts before leaving with one out in the seventh.
The right-hander has split his two career starts with Boston, and he was especially impressive in the most recent Aug. 11. He turned in the longest start of his career, going eight innings while yielding two runs in a 5-2 home victory.
Cleveland's Nick Swisher is 8 for 19 with two homers and five RBIs over the past six games, connecting for a two-run homer on one of his two hits Wednesday.
He's batting .478 over his last 12 meetings with Boston, and owns a .326 average versus Lester.
|Boston Red Sox|
|April 14, 2013||Joel Hanrahan||15-Day DL||Sore right hamstring|
|April 07, 2013||John Lackey||15-Day DL||Right biceps strain|
|April 06, 2013||John Lackey||Day-to-Day||Left game - Right biceps strain|
|March 27, 2013||Stephen Drew||7-Day DL||Concussion|
|March 27, 2013||Stephen Drew||7-Day DL||Concussion|
|March 22, 2013||Franklin Morales||15-Day DL||Strained lower back|
|April 16, 2013||Jason Kipnis||Day-to-Day||Sore elbow|
|April 15, 2013||Michael Bourn||15-Day DL||Right hand laceration|
|April 14, 2013||Michael Bourn||Day-to-Day||Left game - right hand laceration|
|April 09, 2013||Lou Marson||15-Day DL||Cervical neck strain|
|April 06, 2013||Lou Marson||Day-to-Day||Cervical neck strain|
|April 03, 2013||Scott Kazmir||Day-to-Day||Sore abdominal muscle|
CLEVELAND (AP) -- Even after extending their winning streak to six games on Thursday, the Boston Red Sox had something more on their minds as they packed up for the flight home.
They will reunite with their fans for the first time since Monday's bombings at the Boston Marathon when they host the Kansas City Royals on Friday night.
"It's going to be great," said Jon Lester , who pitched seven strong innings in Boston's 6-3 win. "Maybe for a couple of hours it can get back to being Boston and watching a baseball game and not thinking about all the other things. Hopefully, we'll be able to do that."
The Red Sox paid tribute to their home city by hanging a "617 Boston Strong" jersey in their dugout throughout their three-game sweep of the Indians.
"We feel a sense that we can contribute to a communal spirit and hopefully create a little bit of a diversion for those affected directly," manager John Farrell said. "We're certainly not going to replace what happened - I think maybe we may have a way of helping getting back to some sense of normalcy."
Clay Buchholz , Friday's scheduled starter, is looking forward to taking the mound at Fenway Park.
"I'm sort of lost for words for everything," he said. "I don't really know how to comprehend a bunch of it.
"But it's going to be a special day for everybody. I think that goes above and beyond it being another baseball game. It's going to be the city of Boston and what the Red Sox are about."
While their minds may have been on the tragedy in their home city, Red Sox outscored Cleveland 19-8 in the series with solid starting pitching, excellent work from the bullpen and timely hitting.
"You can't put your finger on one thing," Lester said after the Red Sox raised their record to 11-4. "Everybody's doing what they need to do. We're playing good baseball right now."
Lester (3-0) held the Indians to two runs and four hits while Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit a tiebreaking home run in the fourth.
Daniel Nava had two RBIs while Saltalamacchia, Dustin Pedroia , Mike Napoli and Mike Carp each drove in a run.
Indians manager Terry Francona , who managed in Boston for eight seasons and led the Red Sox to World Series titles in 2004 and 2007, was swept in the first series against his former team.
Cleveland has lost four straight.
"If they pitch like that, they're going to give a lot of people trouble," Francona said.
Zach McAllister (1-2) allowed three runs in five innings.
Andrew Bailey pitched the ninth for his second save.
The Red Sox are expected to have designated hitter David Ortiz in the lineup for the first time this season Friday in what surely will be a heart-felt evening as Boston continues the healing process after Monday's tragedy.
"I imagine it will be pretty emotional for some people, but at the same time we're going to go out there and give them a good effort and show them we care and we're playing for them," Lester said.
The Indians, who went 2-6 on their first homestand, open a 10-game trip Friday in Houston. Cleveland's struggling offense has scored nine runs in the losing streak.
Lester, who struck out five and walked one, has won his first three decisions for the third time in his career.
Saltalamacchia's two-out homer broke a 1-1 tie in the fourth. The line drive to right field landed in Boston's bullpen and came after McAllister struck out Nava and Jonny Gomes to start the inning.
After Saltalamacchia's home run put the Red Sox ahead for good, Pedroia's run-scoring single in the fifth gave Boston a two-run lead. The Red Sox put it away with a three-run seventh.
The second inning started when Napoli's wind-blown fly ball drifted over the head of right fielder Ryan Raburn , who missed on a leaping attempt at the wall. The ball rolled back toward the infield and the slow-footed Napoli lumbered into third.
Mike Aviles ' RBI groundout tied the game in the bottom of the inning. Mark Reynolds led off with a double, took third on a fly ball and scored on Aviles' grounder to short.
Napoli, who has a seven-game hitting streak, was 6 for 15 with six RBIs, three doubles, a triple and three runs scored in the series.
Jacoby Ellsbury started the fifth-inning rally with a double and stopped at third on Shane Victorino 's single. Pedroia lined a 3-2 pitch to right that scored Ellsbury.
Bailey, who also saved Wednesday's game, retired all six batters he faced in the two appearances.
NOTES: Ortiz, who is nursing a sore Achilles, homered Thursday in the final game of a rehab assignment at Triple-A Pawtucket. Rookie OF Jackie Bradley Jr., in an 0-for-20 slump, will likely be sent to Pawtucket when Ortiz is activated. .... Boston 3B Will Middlebrooks , hitless in his past 13 at-bats, wasn't in the lineup Thursday. Ciriaco started at third. ... Farrell said RHP John Lackey (strained biceps) is scheduled to throw a bullpen session Friday and if that goes well, he will pitch on a rehab assignment Monday. ... Francona said 2B Jason Kipnis (sore left elbow) could return to the lineup Friday against Houston. Kipnis missed his fifth straight game Thursday. ... Francona said OF Michael Bourn (lacerated right index finger) is doing exercises to strengthen his hand. Bourn was placed on the 15-day DL on Wednesday.