Maybe it really is a mutual admiration association, or maybe the managers were just trying to sweet talk each other into submission.

Whichever the case, Red Sox manager Terry Francona and White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen showed great respect before the first of their three-round heavyweight fight. And what's not to like? They are the last two World Series champions and have the second and third best records in baseball this year.

"I thought they've made some really good [off-season] moves," Francona said. "They have a really complete team. They have starting pitching, bullpen, speed, power, a very good bench. They have a very good team."

Guillen also is impressed.

"They are better right now than last year because they added better pitching," Guillen said. "Their defense is playing well. They kind of struggled last year catching the ball. Now they're doing it."

Last year the White Sox were clearly better, sweeping the American League Division Series from Boston.

This year, the Red Sox have the upper hand after Friday's 7-2 victory, witnessed by a sellout crowd of 39,355 at U.S. Cellular Field.

The loss dropped the White Sox to 14-13 against left-handed starters, with rookie Jon Lester handling them this time.

White Sox starter Mark Buehrle lasted 61/3 innings and was charged with five runs on nine hits.

"I was satisfied with the way he threw the ball," Guillen said. "He had a couple of chip shots hit against him, but that's part of the game."

Coming off one of the worst outings of his career—11 runs in five innings against the offensively challenged Cubs—Buehrle gave the Red Sox a 2-0 lead in the first on a Mark Loretta double and a home run by David Ortiz, making him the first Red Sox in history with 30 before the All-Star break. It was also his seventh homer in his last 23 at-bats.

The White Sox came back against Lester with one run in the first and another in the third, both of them on Jermaine Dye bases-loaded sacrifice flies. But they could have scored more, because they had the bases loaded with one out in the first and with no outs in the third. Joe Crede ended both innings.

In fact, the White Sox had nine baserunners in the first five innings but only two runs. The first time they were retired in order was the sixth, which was as along as Lester—Boston's first pick in the 2002 draft—had gone in five previous big-league starts.

"We had opportunities early in the game and we couldn't take advantage," Guillen said. "We couldn't get the big hits."

Relievers Manny Delcarmen, Mike Timlin and Julian Tavarez each pitched a scoreless inning to secure the victory, only the fifth loss in the last 21 games for the White Sox.

Buehrle (9-6) couldn't hold Boston after his team tied it in the third. The Red Sox came back with a run in the fourth, with Ortiz scoring on Mike Lowell's two-out single.

They added another in the fifth on squib hits from Coco Crisp and Alex Gonzalez and Kevin Youkilis' sacrifice fly.

Buehrle's night ended after Gonzalez singled in Boston's fifth run in the seventh.

The mid-season return match may not have the drama of last October, but it has playoff implications. The White Sox are fighting to catch Detroit in the Central Division, while the Red Sox are trying to stay ahead of the Yankees in the East.

"I don't know for them, but it means a lot for us," Guillen said. "We can get swept easily by this ballclub. With the way Detroit Tigers are playing, we can't afford to be swept by any ballclub."

dvandyck@tribune.com