With just 2 1/2 weeks left in the season, Boston gained a game in the AL wild-card standings and picked up some momentum on Cleveland with an 8-6 win Tuesday over the Indians.
It was the first of eight games in 10 days for the two teams who have met in the playoffs the past three years. Last October, the Red Sox overcame a 2-0 deficit to beat Cleveland in the first-round of the division series.
"For some reason, we've had some success here," said outfielder Darren Lewis. "We try not to get too caught up in the numbers, or why something happens. But these games are very important and we won the first one."
Dante Bichette hit a two-run homer in the third inning when Chuck Finley (12-11) had one of his typical one-inning meltdowns _ giving up six runs _ as the Red Sox moved within two games of Cleveland for the wild-card lead.
"It's a good feeling coming into this park and getting Game 1," said closer Derek Lowe. "Game 1 of any series is big, but especially against Cleveland."
Nomar Garciaparra, who entered the series batting just .133 this season against Cleveland, drove in two runs for Boston and threw out a runner at the plate.
Jose Offerman and Carl Everett also had two RBI apiece as the Red Sox 2-5 hitters drove in all their runs.
Ramon Martinez (10-6) pitched into the sixth, and three relievers combined for three perfect innings. Lowe got his 33rd save but only after allowing Travis Fryman's double and Russell Branyon's RBI single.
The Red Sox have to like their chances of picking up more ground on the Indians this week. Pedro Martinez, 8-0 in his career against Cleveland, will pitch the series finale.
"Not to say Pedro is a guaranteed win or anything," Lowe said. "But if we can win tomorrow (today), there's a good chance we can win all three."
Manny Ramirez hit a two-run homer and had four RBI for the Indians, who had two bad baserunning mistakes early on, and thanks to Finley, trailed 6-1 after three innings.
"We made some mistakes that hurt us," said Indians manager Charlie Manuel. "Without them we get more runs."
Finley needed just 27 pitches to get past the first two innings, but it took him 26 to get out of a disastrous third. That's been a familiar pattern this season for Finley, signed this winter to a $27 million, three-year contract to pitch in big games like this.
In 30 starts this season, Finley has had 12 innings in which he has given up three or more runs.
"Outside of that one inning, he pitched a good game," said catcher Sandy Alomar. "He got some pitches up."
Bichette's third homer since joining the Red Sox on Aug. 31 capped Boston's third against Finley, who got himself into trouble by walking No. 9 hitter Manny Alexander on four pitches with one out.
Offerman and Everett hit RBI singles before Garciaparra's two-run single put the Red Sox ahead 4-1. Bichette then hit a 2-1 pitch from Finley onto the home-run porch in left.
"Chuck just got the ball up a couple of times and we got some good wood on it," Bichette said.
The Indians loaded the bases with none out in the third, and scored two runs, the first on a gift when Everett let Roberto Alomar's fly ball drop in. Sandy Alomar scored on the play, but Garciaparra easily threw out Lofton, who didn't slide, at home.
Notes: Ramirez's 226th homer tied Hall of Famer Earl Averill for third
on the team's career list. ... The Indians went 0-for-5 in coin tosses
conducted Tuesday by the commissioner's office to determine the sites
for potential playoff games if there is a tie for the AL wild card. ...
Cleveland's 444th consecutive sellout pushed the Indians over 3 million
in attendance for the fifth straight year. ... The Martinez brothers _
Ramon and Pedro _ are a combined 26-11 this season. The rest of Boston's
starters are 27-36. ... The Red Sox have scored 120 runs in the third
inning this season. Their next closest is 82 runs in the