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.
The Red Sox will send Jon Lester to the mound as they look to extend their winning streak to six in Thursday night's finale against Terry Francona and the Cleveland Indians.
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.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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