BOSTON -- The Los Angeles Angels were happy to split a series at the home of the only team with a better record.
"If the Yankees win 20 in a row, they'll catch us," Mike Lowell said. "If every division winner got to the World Series it would mean something. But it doesn't mean anything" to finish in first.
The AL West-leading Angels bounced back after blowing a 5-0 lead and losing 10-5 on Saturday night.
"I think we press a little when we get here because we know this is a great team," Saunders said. "They play great at home, just like we do, and I think this game was like a must-win for us."
In his 26th major league start, the 26-year-old Saunders scattered six hits and allowed just two runners to reach second base in 7 2/3 innings. He struck out seven, walked two and was charged with one run.
Julian Tavarez (6-9) allowed just two runs and two hits in six innings -- all in the first -- for the Red Sox, who haven't had a smaller division lead since May 1 when it was 3½ games. The Yankees beat Detroit for the third consecutive day on Sunday.
Saunders (7-1) left the game with two outs in the eighth after David Ortiz singled on his 104th pitch. Scot Shields then walked Manny Ramirez and allowed an RBI single to Lowell. Justin Speier ended the rally by striking out pinch-hitter J.D. Drew.
Francisco Rodriguez struck out two in a perfect ninth for his 31st save in 35 chances. He blew a save opportunity in Friday's second game of a day-night doubleheader, but the Angels won 7-5.
"We came from Toronto losing the series. We wanted to either win or split this series so it was huge for us," he said. "It's been pretty difficult to win here."
The Red Sox are 6-2 at Fenway Park this season against the Angels, who start a three-game series at home Monday night against the Yankees.
The first runner to reach second against Saunders came in the second when Lowell was safe on a forceout and advanced on a single by Bobby Kielty in his first at-bat with Boston since being called up Friday from Triple-A Pawtucket. Saunders retired the next two hitters on fly balls.
In the fourth, with two outs, Lowell walked and Kielty singled him to second again. But Coco Crisp struck out.
"Joe pitched a terrific game. I don't think you could pitch much better against that group of guys," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.
The Angels scored two runs in the first and could have had more if Kielty didn't rob Casey Kotchman of a two-run homer when he reached over the low right-field wall to make the inning-ending catch. Kielty banged his right side against the top of the fence and grabbed it before trotting in to a standing ovation.
"I was going after the ball," he said. "I wasn't focused on the wall."
Chone Figgins led off the first with a single, took second on a walk to Orlando Cabrera and scored on Vladimir Guerrero's single. Cabrera scored when Gary Matthews Jr. grounded into a forceout at second.
The Angels' next runner was Cabrera, who was grazed by a pitch in the third. He took a few steps toward the mound and pointed with his left hand and jawed at Tavarez, who stayed near the mound as catcher Kevin Cash stood between them. Players rushed onto the field, but the incident ended quickly and quietly.
Cabrera said it stemmed from a recent game in Anaheim when Tavarez accused him of stealing the catcher's signs while on base.
"I don't know if he was just trying to throw inside but I just took it personally," Cabrera said. "I told him, 'So now you're satisfied that you're trying to hit me or (do) you want to keep doing it?' I don't know what he said back to me."
Tavarez agreed that he warned Cabrera in Anaheim about stealing signs.
"I say if you are doing it, to stop doing it because I will hit you if you are doing it and I say it in the right way," Tavarez said. "I am not looking to give up runs out there or hit him on purpose already down 2-0."
Said Scioscia: "We'll let the league handle it."
- Angels 2B Erick Aybar left the game in the bottom of the sixth with a strained left hamstring.
- Tavarez is 0-5 in his last seven starts.
- Lowell reached base on all four at-bats with a single, a walk and two forceouts at second base.
- Cabrera's hitting streak ended at eight games.
- Youkilis went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and is in a 4-for-35 slump.