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07/28/07 12:23 AM ET

Wakefield, Youkilis outshine Rays

Knuckleballer works six stellar frames for 12th victory

ST. PETERSBURG -- With a roof over his head, Floridian Tim Wakefield never looks more at home than at Tropicana Field, where his knuckleball has left the Devil Rays muttering for years. Once again, Wakefield emerged triumphant at his home away from home, pitching the Red Sox to a 7-1 victory over a badly slumping Tampa Bay team in the opener of a three-game series on Friday night.

Wakefield held the Rays to six hits and a run over six innings, striking out seven.

Lifetime at Tropicana Field, Wakefield is now 8-0 with a 2.33 ERA. If there is any team that wishes Wakefield -- who turns 41 next week -- would just retire, it is the Devil Rays. Backed by his two wins this season, he is 17-2 lifetime against them.

For those keeping track, that makes Wakefield the all-time wins leader against the Devil Rays, as he passed Mike Mussina. His eight wins at Tropicana Field also rank first for any Tampa Bay opponent, though Roy Halladay, Mussina and Andy Pettitte are just one behind.

"I had no idea that was the case," said Wakefield. "I'm excited about that. It's not an automatic win against these guys. They've got a pretty good lineup over there, especially this year."

If there's anything Wakefield loves as much as pitching against the Devil Rays, it is pitching indoors anywhere. Nothing helps a knuckleballer more than a climate-controlled environment.

"I like pitching here. I like pitching inside. I've always said that," Wakefield said. "The ball seems to move a lot more in the dome, and other than the second inning, I felt like I had pretty good control of everything tonight."

Kevin Youkilis played a big role in helping Wakefield win this one. The first baseman snapped a 59-at-bat home run drought by clubbing a three-run homer in the top of the sixth.

"It was good," said Youkilis. "It was definitely tough when we weren't scoring any runs. We were getting no luck. A couple of balls were hit hard. To get Wake some run support there and to get him the win was huge. You can't judge this team by the first five innings. There's always nine innings to play. And that's what we did, we came back and scored a lot of runs and had a nice 'W' today."

This game marked the return of Youkilis to the No. 2 spot in the batting order, where he hadn't been since July 1. Interestingly, 10 of the 12 homers Youkilis has belted this season have come when he hits second, a spot in the order where he carries a healthy .347 batting average.

The Red Sox have reeled off victories in four of the first five games of this trip. Overall, manager Terry Francona's squad has won seven of the past eight. Boston, which is now a season-high 23 games above .500, leads the Yankees by eight games in the American League East.

The one constant with Wakefield this season is that he'll either get the win or the loss. In 21 starts, Wakefield (12-9) has 21 decisions.

Wakefield's only trouble came in the bottom of the second when, with two outs and nobody on, he gave up a single to left to Ty Wigginton, a walk to Jonny Gomes and an RBI single to Dioner Navarro.

The Devil Rays were able to maintain that slight 1-0 lead for a while, thanks to the work of starter Jason Hammel, who held the Red Sox to one hit over the first five innings.

"He was doing a lot," Francona said of Hammel. "His changeup was very effective. We knew he was on somewhat of a pitch count, and we want to work pitchers anyway. Fortunately, we got a couple of runners on when we did get him out of there. He did a very good job."

But Boston came rallying back in the sixth. Alex Cora and Julio Lugo worked one-out walks. On came reliever Juan Salas and Youkilis greeted him by pummeling a three-run homer to left-center. Suddenly, the Red Sox held a 3-1 lead.

"Youkie hits a huge home run for us to go up 3-1," said Wakefield. "I think with our offense, from a starter's standpoint, if you can minimize the damage as much as possible, our offense will eventually score a lot of runs and they showed that again tonight."

Indeed. The Sox jumped all over the Rays with four in the eighth to put the game out of reach.

The big knocks in the frame came from J.D. Drew (RBI single), Coco Crisp (two-run double) and Doug Mirabelli (RBI single).

But the night belonged to Wakefield.

"I do know that when the environment is controlled, he's not battling elements -- his ball does more than anybody else's," said Francona. "Tonight, we certainly weren't doing a lot offensively early. And the way he pitched allowed us to be patient and stay patient so we could do something later, and it mattered."

Making the win even sweeter was the margin of victory, which allowed the Red Sox to rest their dominant 1-2 bullpen punch of Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon.

Manny Delcarmen (1.40 ERA) worked two strong innings and Kyle Snyder finished it off with a scoreless ninth.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.