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Red Sox Begin Series At Oakland With Backs Squarely Against The Wall

(Sports Network) - Though a sweep would have been better, a series victory in Boston's most recent set has kept its slim playoff hopes alive.

Hoping to make up more ground in the American League Wild Card race, the Red Sox will send the AL's earned run average leader Clay Buchholz to the hill this evening as he battles the Oakland Athletics and fellow 15-game winner Trevor Cahill in the opener of a three-game series at the Coliseum.

Boston began its most recent set with Tampa Bay 7 1/2 games back of the Rays for the AL's final playoff spot and a series loss, or even worse a sweep, would have likely killed the Red Sox chances of making the postseason.

The Red Sox, though, won the series opener before dropping Tuesday's meeting at Fenway Park. Boston then came through on Wednesday with an 11-5 victory to move within 6 1/2 games of Tampa Bay.

Tim Wakefield snapped a four-decision losing streak after allowing five runs -- four earned -- over five innings, and at 44 years and 37 days old, surpassed Dennis Eckersley (43 years, 349 days old) as the oldest pitcher to pick up a victory in franchise history.

Wakefield has helped in reaching that milestone with five home runs, including two from Marc Scutaro as part of a four-hit day. Victor Martinez, David Ortiz and Adrian Beltre also went deep in the win, which came after the Red Sox were swept by the White Sox in three games before facing the Rays.

"I was the benefactor of some great run support by our offense. They really picked me up," Wakefield said.

The Red Sox have split six games so far with the Athletics, losing two of three in Oakland back in July, but have to like their chances of taking the season series lead tonight behind Buchholz, whose 2.25 ERA is the second best in the majors along with a solid 15-6 mark.

Buchholz hasn't won in his last two starts though, going 0-1 despite allowing just three runs. Two of those came in a 3-1 loss to the White Sox on Saturday over five innings as the right-hander suffered his first loss since July 21.

He faces a worthy foe tonight in Cahill, who is also 15-6 with a 2.72 ERA that is third best in the AL. The 22-year-old righty has won three of four and six of his last eight starts, besting the Angels on Saturday with six scoreless innings after working around four hits and a career-high six walks to become the first A's pitcher to reach 15 wins in a season since Dan Haren in 2007.

"The command wasn't there, but I got out of some jams -- that was the key," Cahill told Oakland's website. "My goal was to not walk anybody, and I think I set the new standard of walking everybody."

Cahill is a solid 9-2 with a 1.71 ERA in 12 starts at home, while the 26-year- old Buchholz is 8-2 with a 2.13 ERA in 12 road outings.

Neither starter has beaten their respective opponents either. Buchholz was drilled for five runs over four innings in a loss in Oakland on July 21, falling to 0-1 with a 6.52 ERA in two starts against the club, while Cahill is 0-2 with an 8.71 ERA in two career starts versus the Red Sox, who he has yet to face this season.

Cahill's teammate, Gio Gonzalez, is close to matching his 15-win mark, as he won game No. 14 on Wednesday, 4-3 over Seattle. Gonzalez allowed three runs over 6 2/3 innings, striking out nine.

Coco Crisp helped him get the win by hitting a two-rum homer in the third inning before driving in the go-ahead run with a single in the sixth.

"He's very, very valuable to the team," Oakland manager Bob Geren said about Crisp.

Oakland, which has won four of six, is 7 1/2 games behind AL West-leading Texas.