This is the first time manager Bobby Valentine's team has been eight games below .500, and also the first time its Wild Card deficit has been 11 games.
"They got rid of a lot of guys. Right now, they're kind of in a rebuilding stage," said Angels outfielder Torii Hunter. "They still have the good pitching over there with Lester, [and Clay] Buchholz pitched pretty well the other night, but we came through with the win by scoring runs."
Lester lasted eight innings for the first time since Aug. 2, and he didn't allow a run in his final four frames.
"I just felt like it was my game," said Lester. "I felt good. I told Bobby and [pitching coach Randy Niemann] when I came in, I said, 'I'm not coming out.' For whatever reason, I just felt like it was my game."
If only Lester had felt that good earlier in the game, when he put his team in a 5-1 hole after four innings.
"It's just a matter of everything. Better rhythm, like I said, a better feel for where my body's at," Lester said. "I struggled early on with it. For whatever reason, one pitch was too fast, the next pitch was too slow. It was just kind of a constant battle of getting that feel of where I was at.
"You've got to hand it to those guys. They had a better game plan than we did early on. It's probably one of the better -- I should say one of the best lineups in the American League, just for the simple fact they could do everything. They can hit and run. They can steal. They can score from first base on singles, on doubles. It's pretty impressive to see some of those guys run."
As has so often been the case this season, a Boston starter ran into first-inning difficulty. Lester opened his outing by walking Mike Trout. Hunter followed with a single up the middle, putting runners at the corners with nobody out. Albert Pujols made it 2-0 by pummeling a two-run double to left.
The Red Sox bounced back with a run in the second when Mike Aviles lifted a deep sacrifice fly to center.
But the Angels again rallied against Lester in the third. They produced four straight singles, including RBI hits by Mark Trumbo and Alberto Callaspo to make it a 4-1 game. Lester gave up another run in the fourth on a double-play grounder.
"Jon had three of his pitches working well today," said Red Sox catcher Ryan Lavarnway. "His cutter wasn't at his best. After the first inning, when they hit a few balls hard, he was getting ground balls. In the third, they just found holes. We had three ground balls for hits that inning that very easily could have been outs, and he battled and unfortunately we didn't score enough runs for him. I thought he pitched pretty well."
Though Boston hit some balls hard, Angels starter Zack Greinke kept them at bay.
"I felt like I should have hit him," said Lavarnway. "I felt way too locked in today to go 0-for-3. The ground balls they were hitting got through, and we were hitting line drives that didn't find any green today. Unfortunately we ran into the Angels when they're hot and playing with a lot of confidence. That's just kind of the way it went."
In the sixth, James Loney made it a 5-2 game by launching a solo homer to right, his first since being traded to the Red Sox last weekend.
"We wanted to win that game," said Loney. "It was a close game. I felt good. I've been feeling good since I've been playing here. I hit one in Boston pretty good that I thought might go out. It felt good to get that one today."
The one bright spot for the Red Sox was that the entire bullpen got to rest heading into a three-game series against the torrid Oakland Athletics.
"Absolutely. He was right on a pitch count," said Valentine of Lester's 121-pitch workload. "He felt great, wanted to go out there. We wanted to allow him a chance to win the game after pitching as well as he did after the third inning."