ST. PETERSBURG -- The Red Sox were in the best possible situation on Monday night.

With its lead over the American League East whittled to just four games, the Tampa Bay series was a must-win for Boston. There was none better to take the mound for the Red Sox than Tim Wakefield, who owns more wins over the Rays than any other opponent.

Wakefield did anything but disappoint Monday, throwing seven shutout innings and allowing just four hits in the Red Sox's 6-0 victory.

With the Yankees' loss to the Angels on Monday night, the Red Sox's AL East lead increased to five games.

"I felt like I had pretty good command of everything tonight," Wakefield said. "I knew coming into the game it was probably going to be a tight one, but we were able to push across some runs early on and put [Tampa Bay] on the ropes."

Red Sox manager Terry Francona agreed.

"His pitch count was in great shape and he was in command of the game," the skipper said of Wakefield, who notched his 19th career win against the Rays.

Wakefield used just 77 pitches to work through the seventh and would've returned for the eighth had he not felt a little stiffness in his back. Boston erred on the side of caution with its 15-year veteran and replaced him with Manny Delcarmen to begin the eighth.

"It's just one of those things," Wakefield said. "It happened last time I was here, too. I don't know if it's the turf, the mound or the beds at the hotel, but I started to get tight after the fifth. ... I told them I could go back out there [for the eighth inning]. I just wanted to give them a heads-up that my back was tight."

By that time, the win was well in hand.

In 35 career appearances opposing Tampa Bay, the 41-year-old righty has only lost twice, and never at Tropicana Field, where he owns a 9-0 record and a 2.16 ERA. Wakefield couldn't say exactly what it was about Tampa Bay that allows him such domination, but he wasn't about to question the results.

"Pitching inside is better, because you don't have to deal with the elements," he said. "The ball seems to move a little bit more inside; I don't know why. I don't care to know why, I'm just very thankful I was able to pitch well here again."

The victory was his 15th of the season, and moved him into a tie with teammate Josh Beckett, the Angels' John Lackey and the Braves' Tim Hudson for most in the Majors.

RAYS-ING HIS GAME
Tim Wakefield has won all four of his starts vs. the Rays this season and is 6-0 in his last six outings since a defeat on April 20, 2006, at Fenway Park.
Player
Record
Tim Wakefield19-2
Mike Mussina16-7
Andy Pettitte13-1
Orlando Hernandez11-3
Rodrigo Lopez11-3
Pedro Martinez11-4
Curt Schilling11-6
Wakefield is 9-0 lifetime at Tropicana Field, the most career wins of any opposing pitcher in this park. Roy Halladay, Mike Mussina, and Andy Pettitte each have seven wins.

"It's as good as I've seen him," said Rays manager Joe Maddon. "His combination of movement and being able to throw it where he wants it. He's just on his game. It happens. And of course, he likes pitching against us."

The Rays never even saw what hit them. Wakefield walked the first hitter he faced, then made up for it by retiring the next 11 straight while his teammates built up a comfortable lead, so he had a little room to maneuver.

"Our offense made my job a lot easier as always," Wakefield said. "To score six runs early and get [starter Scott Kazmir] out of the game is tough to do with that guy over there. He's a talented pitcher."

A super-charged offense took the pressure off of its starter almost immediately. The Red Sox pounced on Kazmir right out of the gate and scored two runs in the first inning, adding three in the second.

Leading the movement was Mike Lowell, who collected two hits and three RBIs thanks to a two-run double in the first and a solo homer, his 17th of the season, in the fifth to boost Boston's lead to 6-0. He also walked twice.

"He had a good night, he's having a good year and he's a good player," Francona said. "I'll take every opportunity I can to brag about him. He plays every night, makes plays and gets big hits."

Dustin Pedroia had a run-scoring single which accounted for Boston's other run in the second. He finished 2-for-4 with two walks.

The Red Sox have now scored 35 runs over their last six games.

Designated hitter Manny Ramirez collected a pair of RBIs in the second with a single to center field. Along with reaching base safely in 71 of his last 76 games, Ramirez has 39 RBIs in 37 games since the All-Star break, and pushed his career total to 1,600, passing Nap Lajoie for 28th on the all-time list.

And 132 of those RBIs came against Tampa Bay, most among opponents all-time.

"I thought we played tonight a really professional game," Francona said. "There's been so many games when it's the fourth inning before we get going. We've faced [Kazmir] so much and he's given us such a tough time, to get his pitch count up and score, that's great."