Red Sox 15, Devil Rays 4

Red Sox continue fireworks

They explode on flammable Rays

By Gordon Edes
Globe Staff / July 6, 2007
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Granted, they have different ideas about etiquette in the Houston suburb of Spring, Texas, than they do in Kyoto, the former imperial capital of Japan.

But just as Hideki Okajima, in a sweet and gracious display of appreciation for his election to the All-Star team, bowed to every corner of the Fens from the bullpen when his honor was announced last night, Josh Beckett also had abundant cause to show gratitude to a Red Sox offense that has been generous to him all season but outdid itself last night.

The Sox set season highs in runs (15) and hits (21) in sweeping Beckett to his 12th win, matching C.C. Sabathia of Cleveland for most in the majors, in a 15-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, losers of 11 straight after dropping three in a row here.

"It never ceases to amaze me the way they can swing the bats," Beckett said after his last start before he heads to San Francisco for Tuesday's All-Star Game.

With their fourth straight win, the Sox opened a 12-game lead in the American League East, the earliest they have led by a dozen games.

"It's awesome," Beckett said. "It's awesome to be on a team that wins a lot of ballgames. To be able to come every day, whether it's my turn to pitch or someone else's, and see what we're capable to do with the bats. The same thing goes with our starting pitching. You have a chance to win with whoever is on the hill.

"We're riding that wave right now. It's a fun time."

After Tampa Bay lost its 10th in a row Wednesday, manager Joe Maddon called it a "perfect growth moment" for his young team. But it took only a few moments to determine this was going to be a "Honey, I Shrunk the D-Rays" kind of night. Beckett struck out the side in the first inning. The Sox sent 11 batters to the plate in the home half.

It was 6-0 after one inning, 9-0 after two, 13-2 after three. Coco Crisp had a grand slam off the Coke bottles in the first inning, walked with the bases loaded in the third, and incredibly came to the plate twice more with the bases loaded, hitting into a double play in the sixth and whiffing in the eighth. Mike Lowell hit a three-run home run in the second, one of a career-high five hits, and knocked in five runs.

J.D. Drew, the leadoff man, had two singles in the first inning, tying a big league record. David Ortiz scored four times in the first six innings and doubled in the second, his first extra-base hit in a dozen games. Jacoby Ellsbury replaced Manny Ramírez in the fifth and had two hits, then was told after the game he was returning to Pawtucket, these half-dozen games serving as a tantalizing preview of coming attractions.

And Julio Lugo, the former Devil Ray, joined in the mashing with a two-run single. He was 0 for 33 against the rest of the world over a three-week span. His third-inning single gave him three hits in three days against the D-Rays, a cure-all for whatever ails even the most hapless hitter.

"When you are unable to make your pitches," Maddon said of the less-than-magnificent seven he sent out against the Sox, "they're kind of like a good offensive line. They just wear you down. That's what we've seen in these guys in the past, and we know that."

The only thing that accumulated at a more dizzying rate than Sox runs were votes for Okajima. The Sox sent out a directive to their front office late yesterday afternoon instructing employees to help in the push to get Okajima elected. One Sox employee said he voted 500 times, and it was clear that from the Atlantic to the Sea of Japan, there were plenty of other people doing the same.

"Still the hero in the shadow," Okajima said modestly through a translator afterward, echoing his spring training self-assessment. "The hero is still Daisuke Matsuzaka."

The Sox had been held to four runs or fewer in 10 of their last dozen games until they scored seven Monday against the Texas Rangers. They scored four in support of Matsuzaka Tuesday against the Devil Rays, put up a seven-spot Wednesday for Tim Wakefield, then more than doubled that for Beckett, who has a knack for bringing out the best in Sox hitters, but never more so than last night.

The Sox came into the game averaging 6.2 runs in Beckett's 15 starts. That number spiked again last night.

Beckett went six innings, allowing three runs on nine hits, before being excused for the evening. He struck out nine, including the first four and five of the first six, walking one. He threw 105 pitches and didn't make it any easier for American League manager Jim Leyland to choose a starter for the All-Star Game.

Leyland's man, Justin Verlander, won his 10th yesterday and has a no-hitter to his credit. Verlander beat Sabathia, who might have made the matter moot by winning No. 13. Yesterday, Leyland said he had no comment on who his starter will be. Back in mid-May, when the Tigers were here, Leyland said Beckett would be a fine choice.

Francona, who managed the All-Stars in 2005, pledged not to get involved, though Beckett said he expected the Sox manager would talk to Leyland this weekend in Detroit.

"The first thing [Leyland] will do is ask me about my dad," Francona said. "That's what he always does. It's not my business to tell people how to do things."

There have been other Sox pitchers with 12 wins by the break. It's been done 17 times, the last by Derek Lowe in 2002, a year in which Lowe finished with a career-best 21 wins. Roger Clemens and Pedro Martínez won 15 by the season's traditional midpoint.

Beckett, meanwhile, is within four of his career-high 16 wins last season. Sure, he'd like to start Tuesday. "It's exciting," he said. "But it's out of my hands."

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