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07/29/07 2:10 AM ET

Sox need extra effort to beat Rays

Boston stays hot, wins for eighth time in past nine games

ST. PETERSBURG -- Instead of bemoaning Jonathan Papelbon's first blown save since May 1, the Red Sox chose to do something about it. What they did was turn a bad result into a decidedly good one.

In a grinder of a game at Tropicana Field on Saturday night, the Red Sox broke it open with six runs in the 12th inning and pulled out a 12-6 victory.

Though it took a couple of hours longer than planned, the Red Sox still achieved their ultimate objective.

"There's no sting," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "We set out to win, and we did. It wasn't easy. The final score won't indicate the struggles. It's a good win -- on the road. Extra innings. that was a good win."

Devil Rays reliever Brian Stokes imploded in that 12th inning, giving up a single to Mike Lowell (4-for-6) and walks to Jason Varitek and Coco Crisp to load them up with one out. Stokes was given a temporary reprieve when Alex Cora grounded out to third and Lowell was forced out at the plate. But Julio Lugo walked on five pitches to force in the winning run.

"It was nice to get that run and to get that win," said Lugo, who was 2-for-5 with two walks and a stolen base.

Out of the bullpen came Jae Kuk Ryu, but Kevin Youkilis slammed his 2-1 pitch out of the reach of right fielder Delmon Young and off the lower portion of the wall for a three-run double.

"A couple of bases on balls helped us out," said Lowell. "We got the one run, but Youk hitting that double is huge to give us a four-run cushion. That's deflating to the other team when you're that late in extra innings."

Even more deflating when Manny Ramirez belted a wicked liner into center that eluded B.J. Upton for a two-run double that put the rout in motion.

"When it's noticeable from the dugout, it must really be doing something," Francona said. "Sometimes you can see a reaction of an outfielder and you can tell by the way they play it. But that ball was veering like it was hit off a tee. That was fortunate. It was a great swing. You could see it coming. That was amazing."

And it also eased Francona's mind because the bullpen was tapped out on a night Mike Timlin (shoulder soreness) was unavailable. Kyle Snyder worked two innings for the win, and Francona went to Javy Lopez to finish it out in the 12th.

If not for the barrage in the top of the inning, Snyder might have been back out there.

"I think any win is big," Snyder said. "The main focus in the bullpen is obviously picking everybody up. We've got the best closer in baseball, in my opinion, and I think anyone's opinion on this team. Baseball's a funny game. It's not necessarily a sure thing."

One way or another, the Red Sox have gotten things done on this road trip. With just Sunday's finale left on the seven-game journey, Boston is 5-1. The lead over the Yankees in the American League East -- which was down to 6 1/2 as recently as three days earlier -- is back to nine games.

It had been nearly three months since Papelbon had blown a save, so you couldn't blame the Red Sox if they felt secure with a 6-4 lead entering the bottom of the ninth.

"He's an elite closer, but he's also a human being," Lowell said. "It's gonna happen every once in a while."

The once in a while was Saturday night. Papelbon gave up a leadoff single to Young and then a game-tying two-run homer to Johnny Gomes. It was Papelbon's second blown save in 25 opportunities this season.

"You know what, he was actually great," said Francona. "He threw one pitch. He threw a split that didn't split. He broke Delmon Young's bat, got ahead of Gomes, threw the one pitch. He made one bad pitch in the inning. Sometimes when you're in that role, that's what happens. He was actually really good."

Early on, the Red Sox seemed primed to have a cruise-control type of night. They had a 3-0 lead after three innings. But the Devil Rays were pesky all night.

Jon Lester, making his second start since being recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket, was in line to get the win for Boston. He went 6 2/3 innings and gave up six hits and four runs.

Down, 5-2, the Rays inched their way to within a run against Lester with solo homers by Gomes and No. 9 hitter Josh Paul in the seventh.

"On Gomes, it was just mislocating," said Lester. "On Paul, it was just a good piece of hitting. I threw the ball where I wanted it and [Jason Varitek] said it was a good pitch. He just put a good swing on it and put it out. You have to tip your hat to him and move on."

Lowell, who was in the middle of everything all night, ignited a Boston rally in the top of the eighth by turning what looked to be a single to center into an all-out-hustle double. He dove head first and was safe by inches. After moving to third on Varitek's single, Lowell scored on a fielder's choice to second by Crisp to push Boston's lead back to two runs.

The early-game highlight for the Red Sox was a tremendous running catch by Ramirez, who raced to the line in left to rob Gomes of what would have been an extra-base hit in the bottom of the fourth.

By the end of the night, the early events were all a blur. All that mattered was the end result.

As for the bullpen, which deployed everyone but Timlin and Manny Delcarmen, Francona will figure that out on Sunday.

"We'll have Daisuke [Matsuzaka's] pitch count at no less than 160," quipped Lowell. "He'll have to throw some innings."

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