Red Sox, Orioles begin set between AL East rivals

American League East rivals meet up at Camden Yards on Friday, as the Baltimore Orioles host the Boston Red Sox in the opener of a key three-game series.

The teams entered the day separated by four games in the ultra-competitive AL East. Boston has led the division since May 27, although Tampa Bay is also knocking on the door and currently sits just a half-game back. Those teams went head-to-head this week as Tampa Bay won two of three at Fenway Park, but Thursday's series finale was rained out and rescheduled for Monday.

On Wednesday, a solo home run by Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli was all Boston could muster against Rays starter David Price, as Tampa Bay cruised to a 5-1 victory. Felix Doubront yielded three runs in 6 2/3 innings, extending a stretch that has seen Red Sox starters allow three earned runs or fewer in 17 of their last 21 games.

Meanwhile, Baltimore followed up a five-game winning streak by suffering three straight setbacks at Kansas City this week. The team is now returning home for the first time since before the All-Star break.

"We've been gone 11 days and everybody is looking forward to getting back home," manager Buck Showalter said.

On Thursday, Baltimore was on the wrong end of a 7-1 final against the Royals. O's starter Miguel Gonzalez was tagged for six earned runs in 4 2/3 innings, ending a personal streak of eight straight quality starts.

Despite the loss, catcher Matt Wieters went 2-for-4 to continue his torrid streak. Wieters has hit safely in all seven games since the All-Star break, and that includes five straight multi-hit games.

"I think the hardest thing to do is be a good defensive catcher and be an offensive contributor," Showalter said. "He's also been great protection as a switch-hitter behind Chris (Davis).

"I'm real proud of him. ... He's been remarkable, and I think that's what makes him valuable. He can contribute in so many ways. ... When you watch other catchers, you realize how spoiled we are."

Toeing the rubber for Baltimore in Friday's series opener is red-hot Chris Tillman, who has won eight of his last nine starts. With his next victory, Tillman would become the first Orioles pitcher to win 13 games in a season since Erik Bedard in 2007.

For Boston, John Lackey was scheduled to start against Tampa Bay on Thursday before the game was rained out. Instead, he was pushed back to start Friday's game.

"We didn't want to get in a start-and-then-stop situation and then, if we don't get past an official game, does that cause us to lose John Lackey over the next four or five days?" Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "So that, in addition to Monday being the best of all available alternatives (for a makeup game) for both sides, it seemed to make the most sense."

Lackey is coming off a relatively disappointing outing against the Yankees his last time out. He took the loss after giving up 10 hits and four earned runs in 6 1/3 innings, although he did strike out seven. The result snapped a six- game streak of going at least seven innings and giving up two runs or fewer.

"I feel pretty strong right now. The last month or two have been pretty solid," Lackey said. "I'm just going to try to keep working hard at it and try to give us a good chance to win."

Baltimore has won five of seven against the Red Sox this season.