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MIL@BOS: Wakefield earns win with eight strong frames

The Red Sox are near the top of the American League standings and the Astros are at the bottom of the National League's, but both clubs still have plenty in common, namely Astros manager Brad Mills and the last name Johnson.

Mills spent six seasons (2004-09) as the Red Sox bench coach under manager Terry Francona, and he still has ties to the organization. The two remain close friends and have been texting each other in advance of the weekend series between their clubs.

"It will be good to see some of those guys," Mills said.

The not-so-good news for Boston is the fact that the Red Sox have lost six of their past eight. The Astros snapped a five-game losing streak with a 7-0 victory against the Rangers on Thursday.

The two clubs last met for an Interleague series in 2008, when the Astros took two out of three in Houston. Boston is 7-8 in Interleague action this season, the club's most single-season losses against the NL since going 9-9 in 2004.

"They're a good team," said Astros third baseman Chris Johnson, whose father, Ron, is Boston's first-base coach. "They're probably one of the best teams in baseball. We've got a tough challenge ahead of us. They've got some good pitchers, some good hitting. We've got to play really, really well to beat them."

The Red Sox continue to play without Carl Crawford (strained left hamstring), who is eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list on Sunday. He began jogging Thursday, but Francona said the left fielder is still unlikely to play Sunday.

"He's out there every day, he's doing stuff I can't imagine doing -- the high leg lifts and the tubing," Francona said this week. "Saying that, he's still a little ways away. I don't think it's probably realistic he comes off Sunday in Houston. We'll see what happens after that, and fortunately he's been pretty good about understanding that, because we knew he was going to be all jazzed up about playing in Houston."

Crawford -- along with teammates Matt Albers and Josh Beckett -- is from the Houston area.

"Whenever I get a chance to get back to Houston, you know it's cool," Crawford said. "I'm looking forward to going back home. Pretty much go home and visit the family and stuff like that."

Right-hander Bud Norris, coming off a 7-2 loss to the Rays, gets the nod for the Astros on Friday. In his last outing, Norris snapped a string of three consecutive starts of allowing one run or fewer when he scattered three runs over five frames. He threw 57 of his 95 pitches for strikes.

"He kept working to find his stuff, and his command kind of got him in trouble there with those walks," Mills said afterward. "He kept battling through it. It was, what, 95 pitches though five innings, and he wanted to go back out there, but it was a situation [in which] we were down and trying to get some baserunners as well."

Norris (4-6, 3.36 ERA) has just two wins in his last 10 outings and has never faced the Red Sox.

Tim Wakefield will start for Boston. He's given up one home run in each of his last six starts, but the knuckleballer has gone at least six innings in his last three appearances.

Red Sox: Proud 'pen
• Red Sox relievers have allowed just three runs over 16 innings (1.68 ERA) in the club's past seven games and have combined for a 2.18 ERA (12 earned runs in 49 1/3 innings) over their last 21 contests.

• Daniel Bard has not allowed a run in 14 innings over his last 12 games, the longest scoreless streak by a Red Sox reliever in 2011.

• Boston's current 10-day, nine-game road trip (Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Houston) is the club's longest Interleague trek since a nine-game trip from June 14-23, 2002, when it traveled to Atlanta, San Diego and Los Angeles.

Astros: Home woes
• Before Thursday's victory, the Astros had lost eight consecutive at Minute Maid Park -- the club's longest home losing streak since a franchise-record 11-game skid in 1966 at the Astrodome.

• The Astros are 4-8 in Interleague Play this season.

Worth noting
• On Thursday, the Red Sox designated 38-year-old outfielder Mike Cameron for assignment and recalled 23-year-old infielder Yamaico Navarro from Triple-A Pawtucket. Cameron appeared in 33 games for the Red Sox, starting 23 in right field, but hit just .149 with three home runs and nine RBIs.

• The Red Sox already traveled to Houston once this year, posting a 10-0 exhibition win at Minute Maid Park on March 30, their last game before the regular season started two days later against the Rangers in Arlington.

• Astros relief pitcher Brandon Lyon underwent surgery Thursday in Pensacola, Fla., to repair the detachment of his right biceps tendon and to also mend a tear in his labrum. He is expected to miss the rest of the season.

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