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Hitting on all cylinders

Sox' bats explode again in fueling fifth straight win

Poor Ryan Drese. The Texas righthander might have needed an extra-strength sleep aid to make it through last night at his Back Bay hotel as he prepared to face Murderers' Row, a.k.a. the rejuvenated Red Sox, today at Fenway Park.

Barring an ample dose of Sominex, Drese could have tried to lull himself into slumber by counting the number of hits the Sox have amassed in matching their season-best five-game winning streak (80). Or the number of runs they piled up in their revival in the Fens (51).

In their latest act of baseball brutality, Terry Francona's boys stomped on All-Star lefthander Kenny Rogers as if he were just another beverage cup en route to banging out a season-high 21 hits and steamrolling the Rangers, 14-6, before a richly entertained 35,024 on Yawkey Way.

"I just kind of tip my hat a lot to the Red Sox," Texas manager Buck Showalter said. "They've been doing it against a lot of good pitching."

The latest barrage -- the Sox matched season highs by scoring 14 runs and swatting five homers -- buoyed struggling starter Derek Lowe, who survived six unearned runs in the second inning to snap a three-game losing streak and improve to 7-8 with a 5.57 ERA, down from 6.02. Lowe, who called the outing perhaps the biggest of his career, allowed four hits, including a grand slam by Hank Blalock, and three walks over seven innings before Alan Embree and Joe Nelson (in his Sox debut) each pitched a scoreless inning.

"There was a tremendous amount of pressure on him, no question," catcher Jason Varitek said of Lowe. "He faced that. Now maybe he can turn it around and put it behind him a little bit more."

Manny Ramirez (4 for 5) paced the Sox by slugging a pair of two-run homers and an RBI single on his way to the All-Star Game.

"I told him he better have a present for my boy, so there you go," said fellow All-Star David Ortiz, who sat out the game after the birth of his third child and first son, D'Angelo, earlier in the day.

But Ramirez had plenty of help, particularly from Nomar Garciaparra (4 for 5 with a two-run homer and RBI double) in his second career start at designated hitter, and Johnny Damon, who singled to start three rallies and scored three times. Mark Bellhorn also went 4 for 5 with a two-run homer and an RBI double, while Varitek chipped in a two-run homer of his own.

The top four batters in the order -- Damon, Bellhorn, Garciaparra, and Ramirez -- went 15 for 21 (.714) with 11 RBIs and 11 runs.

"The top of our lineup was unbelievable," Francona said, crediting Damon as the catalyst.

The Sox maintained their one-game lead over the A's in the wild-card race after limping home from a 1-5 road trip and starting the homestand three games off the pace.

Tim Wakefield will face Drese today as the Sox try to sweep the AL West-leading Rangers despite playing their first three-game series of the season without Pedro Martinez or Curt Schilling pitching at least once.

"After that horrible road trip, we had to get something done and we've responded," Damon said. "We've won the series against Texas. Now it's time to get the sweep. We're not going to be happy unless we get that."

After chasing Rogers with two outs in the second (his shortest outing in 40 starts since June 1, 2003), the Sox continued the surge against former Sox pitcher John Wasdin, among other Texas battering rams. The Sox collected 13 or more hits in a fifth straight game for the first time since July 6, 1984. In another measure of their recent dominance, the Sox extended their streak of putting at least one runner on base to 22 innings. The Sox have been retired in order only three times in their last 42 innings and have hit .400 (80 for 200) over the first five games of the homestand.

"Last year, everyone throughout the team swung the bat, one through nine," hitting coach Ron Jackson said. "We're getting back to that right now."

They did it last night when Lowe needed it most. For the second time in as many starts, the Sox staked him to an early three-run lead, only for it to slip away as Bellhorn committed a pair of errors, enabling a six-run second for the Rangers. Lowe seemed to be on the ropes after he walked Michael Young with the bases loaded and fell behind, 2-0, to Blalock.

Just then, the crowd began to chant for Lowe.

"It was what I would call a touch of class," Lowe said. "Instead of going the boo route, they did stand up and try to encourage me to get out of the inning."

Lowe went 3-0 to Blalock, then recovered for a full count before he misplaced a 91-mile-per-hour fastball, which Blalock belted into the Sox' bullpen for his third grand slam of the season and a 6-3 Rangers lead.

But the Sox, who rallied around Lowe in the dugout after the top of the inning, promptly struck for five runs to regain the lead. Bellhorn and Ramirez provided the big blasts, sandwiching two-run homers around a single by Garciaparra.

"Derek Lowe did an unbelievable job," Garciaparra said in a brief statement. "He pitched phenomenal. It's really great of him, even after he had that one inning where those guys scored six, to settle down. He didn't let it affect him and went on. It says a lot about our team as well."

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