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05/03/08 2:04 AM ET

Sox drop Rays, stand alone in first

Boston tops AL East behind Buchholz, five-run fourth frame

BOSTON -- The Red Sox waited through a two-hour and 27-minute rain delay before at last starting Friday night's game against the Tampa Bay Rays. But that didn't quite compare to how long the Boston bats had been waiting for a big rally.

Just as the rain finally subsided, so, too, did the offensive dry spell that had plagued the Sox for a week.

Backed by the bats, the Red Sox came through with a 7-3 victory over the Rays, taking the first step in avenging the three-game sweep they endured last week in St. Petersburg. The teams will play twice more this weekend.

The sudden offensive firepower came after a stretch in which the Red Sox scored four runs over five games.

"We needed it," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona.

Clay Buchholz (2-2, 3.71 ERA) got the win for the Sox, allowing five hits and a run while walking four and striking out six.

For Buchholz, it was a nice change of pace from last Saturday against the Rays, when he pitched perhaps his best game of the year -- but lost by a score of 2-1.

"It's good to see the guys getting back in stride and swinging the bats well," said Buchholz. "Hopefully we can just keep going."

Without question, Buchholz has gotten himself on a nice little roll, going 2-1 with a 1.40 ERA in his last three starts.

Still, the revived bats were the big story in this game.

The Red Sox broke out first in the bottom of the third against Rays starter Edwin Jackson, as Dustin Pedroia clubbed a two-out double to left to drive home Julio Lugo.

"It was good," said Pedroia. "We've been facing some tough pitching, even tonight. Edwin's got great stuff. It was nice to score some runs and help out our pitching staff and everybody."

But the big breakthrough -- the one the Sox had been missing for days -- occurred in the fourth. Brandon Moss got it started with a solo homer to center.

Moss had already made a contribution earlier in the game, firing a perfect strike to catcher Jason Varitek to nail Evan Longoria, who was trying to score on a single by Jason Bartlett.

"He makes a great throw, then he absolutely crushes that ball," said Francona. "There were some balls hit to center field today that didn't go anywhere. He leaned all over that ball."

Varitek (single up the middle) and Lugo (walk) kept the pressure on after the homer. Jacoby Ellsbury laced a single to make it 3-0. Pedroia followed with a two-run single and David Ortiz capped the damage with an RBI single to give the Sox a 6-0 cushion.

So in one inning, the Sox produced more runs than they had in the five previous games.

"We haven't had a lot of room to work with," said Pedroia. "We've had nothing really going on for about a week. We've been facing guys that were pounding the zone with good stuff. We didn't really have an opportunity to get things going. We weren't swinging the bats at our best either, so it was kind of tough."

Buchholz gave one back in the fifth, walking Bartlett, giving up a double to Carl Crawford and then unleashing a wild pitch to bring home the run.

The Rays inched closer in the seventh, aided by an error by Lugo to start the inning. After a double by Bartlett pushed runners to second and third, Akinori Iwamura got one home on a sacrifice fly against left-hander Javier Lopez. Crawford hit a fielder's choice grounder to short to drive in another run to make it a 6-3 game.

But the Red Sox extended that lead in the eighth when Varitek smashed a double high off the Green Monster to bring in Moss.

Jonathan Papelbon took it home in a non-save situation, pitching a 1-2-3 ninth.

Not that anyone is scoreboard watching this time of year, but the Red Sox quietly leapfrogged the Rays to move back into first place in the American League East.

More important was the fact they got their bats going again.

"Absolutely," said Moss. "We've definitely been scrapping."

And finally, there was a reward for it.

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