WASHINGTON -- They are opportunistic by nature, and that is just one reason the Red Sox lead the American League with 43 wins. And creating chances for the opponent has certainly been one of the culprits in the Washington Nationals having the fewest victories (20) in the Majors.

A perfect tale of the two teams presented itself in the top of the seventh inning of an 11-3 triumph by the Red Sox in the opener of a three-game series on Tuesday night at Nationals Park.

With the game locked in a 3-3 tie, Kevin Youkilis hit a grounder to third, and the Red Sox were about to have two outs and nobody on base. But Ryan Zimmerman's throw to first one-hopped Nick Johnson for an error, and Boston had life. The error by Zimmerman was a Major League-leading 65th by Washington.

Jason Bay then struck a single to left and Youkilis aggressively roared to third. Bay moved to second on the throw, and the Nationals had pitcher Julian Tavarez issued an intentional walk to Mike Lowell. The hope was that Jason Varitek would hit into an inning-ending double play.

Instead, the captain got the job done, lofting a sacrifice fly to left to put the Red Sox ahead for good in a game that had several momentum shifts.

"Those little things that might not show up in the boxscore, little things that might open up a game -- that's what we stress every ballgame and every play," said Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. "The first thing I think of is Youkilis going first to third. It might not be that big at the time, but it can come around and be huge for us in the run column."

Once that door was opened a little -- thanks to Zimmerman's throw and the subsequent hustle of Youkilis -- the Red Sox busted it open.

They erupted for six in the eighth and added another in the ninth.

"A lot of good things happened," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "It took a while. But a lot of good things happened. You spread a game out like that, that's a good feeling."

This was a night that left the Red Sox, who increased their AL East lead over the Yankees to a season-high five games, with a lot to feel good about. Bay went 4-for-6, including home run No. 19 on the season. He drove in three to increase his AL-leading RBI total to 69.

"He shows up every night and he plays," Francona said. "He seems to get big hits. Just wind him up and let him go. He does a great job."

Then there was Ellsbury, who had a 4-for-4 performance that included two triples and stolen base No. 30 on the season.

"He swung the bat great," said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia of Ellsbury. "He's driving the ball and that's a great sign. Hopefully he can keep it going because he's scoring a lot of runs and he's an exciting player. He's fun to watch when he's running those bases."

30 rocks
With a sixth-inning steal in the Red Sox's 11-3 victory over the Nationals on Tuesday night, center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury became just the fourth player in club history to reach the 30-steal mark at least twice in his career.
Player
Years
Tris Speaker1909-10, 1912-14
Harry Hooper1910-11
Johnny Damon2002-03
Jacoby Ellsbury2008-09

Though such glowing terms are often used when it comes to Ellsbury's baserunning, Youkilis perhaps surprised the Nationals with his key burst from first to third that seemed to change the complexion of the game.

"I was thinking about it and just decided to go because I saw how [Adam Dunn] had to close on it and the way he had to come up and throw," said Youkilis. "It was a little bit to his left, so he had to come around it and then throw. I was predicting he might not throw it on line, and luckily I was right."

It was the first time the Red Sox played a game in Washington, D.C., since Sept. 19, 1971, when they beat a Senators team managed by Ted Williams.

Brad Penny went 5 2/3 innings for the Sox, giving up six hits and three runs. He walked three and struck out six and took a no-decision. Manny Delcarmen recorded just one out, but it was good enough to earn him the win.

It was Bay that started the process of creating breathing room, when he smoked a two-run single to left with one out in the eighth. Varitek added an RBI single and then Ellsbury unloaded for a two-run triple. Nick Green capped the damage in the game-breaking frame, roping an RBI single.

Youkilis had given the Red Sox a 3-2 lead in the fifth with an RBI single to left that scored Pedroia.

But the Nats, led by two former Red Sox, rallied against Penny in the bottom of the sixth. Josh Bard smacked a two-out single to right and Willie Harris drove him home with a double down the line in right.

The Red Sox, however, took control for the rest of the night.

"We got in a situation where we felt great about Penny pitching [the sixth]," said Francona. "Then we give the run back. We had to start over, but we did, so that was good."

The Sox have won 10 of their past 13 to at last open up some breathing room in the standings.

"We know there's still a long ways to go," said Ellsbury. "It's a tough division. We have to keep on pushing. No matter the lead, we still have to come out and play our A game and hope to get that 'W.' It's nice to have a little cushion, but at the same time, we know we have to keep on pressing forward."