- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN Insider
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Big Series: Anaheim (75-58) at Boston (79-53).
Big in the Yankees' Rearview Mirror: And the Red Sox keep rolling, defeating Anaheim Thursday, 4-3. Derek Lowe pitched 7 1/3 effective innings, helping the Sox to their ninth straight win. The Red Sox were 10½ games out of first place on Aug. 9, and now they're threatening to become George Steinbrenner's worst imaginable nightmare; they're 3½ games behind the Yankees.
Big Loss: On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Angels' starting pitchers really didn't give them a chance to win. And while Bartolo Colon kept Anaheim in the game Thursday, he wasn't too effective as he allowed four runs on 10 hits in 4 2/3 innings. Suddenly, Anaheim is in danger of losing contact with the lead pack of AL contenders. Right now, the Angels are four games behind Oakland in the AL West and 4½ behind Boston in the AL wild-card race.
Big Help: Boston closer Keith Foulke entered the game Thursday with two outs and the bases empty in the top of the eighth. He went on to allow only one baserunner -- a leadoff single in the ninth to Troy Glaus, who subsequently was thrown out attempting to steal second base -- and recorded his 26th save of the season.
Big Change: As soon as Nomar Garciaparra departed and shortstop Orlando Cabrera and first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz came aboard, the Boston infield tightened and the Red Sox became the pitching-and-defense kind of team they probably should have been all along. The Red Sox used to give up one unearned run about every other game before they got Cabrera and Mientkiewicz, and now they've allowed one unearned run in the last couple of weeks, only five for the entire month of August. Sinkerballer Derek Lowe, who starts the third game of this series, is pitching much better, and perhaps more aggressively -- he allowed 52 walks in his first 117.1 innings, but has issued only six walks in 34.1 innings. The Boston defense surrendered 23 unearned runs in the first four months of the season, and only three in August. Going into the series, the Red Sox ranked first in the AL in runs scored, first in on-base percentage, first in slugging, and they are second in ERA, at 4.06. And the Red Sox have generated the largest run-differential in the league, having scored 138 more runs than they allowed as the series began.
Big Offense: Angels starter John Lackey strangely lacked aggressiveness in Tuesday's game, throwing a lot of breaking balls in the first innings. Lackey fell behind in the count, 3 balls and 1 strike, in the first inning when pitching to Manny Ramirez, and the Red Sox slugger crushed a three-run homer, his 35th of the year. Later, Ramirez would hit No. 36.
Big Threat: What was lost amid the Angels' two defeats in the first games of this series is how much more potent the Anaheim offense is becoming. While facing Schilling, Arroyo and a group of proven relievers, the Angels have piled up 26 hits in the first two games; they totaled eight walks on Wednesday, and every member of the starting lineup had a least one hit. The pieces seem to be in place for a playoff run for the Angels, but they must quickly rebound from the first two games of this series.
Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book, "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty," is on the New York Times Best-Seller List and can be ordered through HarperCollins.com.