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06/05/08 12:57 AM ET

Sox stifle Rays, move back into first

Three-run third supports Beckett's effective six-inning effort

BOSTON -- Guessing how many ways the Red Sox scored runs Wednesday would be like estimating how many marbles are in a glass jar. There are just too many ways to carve up an answer.

Perfectly executed hit and runs mixed with a sacrifice fly, ground-rule double and a traditional RBI single seemed to be the equation. For the second straight night against the Rays, nearly every batter in the Sox's order contributed to the offensive cause.

Boston battled to reach base and advanced runners effortlessly in a 5-1 win over Tampa Bay on Wednesday night at Fenway Park. With the victory, the Sox took a half-game lead over the Rays in the American League East.

"One through nine, we have really good hitters," said center fielder Coco Crisp, whose hot bat created a 2-for-2 night at the plate with a run scored and one batted in. "Some are considered great. Fortunately, lots of people are playing well. You can go down the list and we're playing good ball right now."

The Red Sox gave starter Josh Beckett all the run support he'd need in the midst of a three-run third inning. Crisp began the rally with a single, and Jacoby Ellsbury, J.D. Drew and Manny Ramirez created the damage by each producing RBI hits.

Crisp would drive in Kevin Youkilis on a sacrifice fly in the fourth, but not before Youkilis advanced to third on a perfectly executed hit-and-run by catcher Jason Varitek.

Crisp said it is important getting productivity from all areas of the batting order when playing a team the caliber of the Rays.

"Especially when you're playing a team like Tampa Bay," Crisp said. "We're neck and neck and they're a good ballclub. When you're playing a team like that, you've got to be at your best."

Boston added another run in the seventh inning by stringing three base hits together, along with a Ramirez walk. Four consecutive runners reached base in the inning.

Beckett took the run support and never looked back. He went six innings, allowing just one run on seven hits to go along with his five strikeouts. Coming off his 10-strikeout performance against Baltimore, it appears the Boston ace is working toward finding that dangerous rhythm he often has on the mound.

"[Beckett was] not always as crisp as we've seen, but [we] did see the side of Beckett not giving in," manager Terry Francona said. "I think he got frustrated a few time not making pitches, or not following it up with another pitch, but he was good enough."

In the sixth, Beckett asked for time and looked a bit uneasy after slipping during his follow through while facing the heart of the Rays' order. As a potential precautionary measure, Beckett threw a warmup pitch, finished the inning and left the game after six.

"It was just one of those deal; it scares you more than anything," Beckett said. "A lot of bad things can happen when you do that."

Beckett's exit left the door open for the Red Sox's bullpen to build on relatively strong performances as of late. Manny Delcarmen and Hideki Okajima provided strong late-inning relief, holding the Rays to one hit on five strikeouts in two innings of work. Craig Hansen pitched a scoreless ninth to end the contest.

"I think anytime you can sustain a quality stretch of performances, it starts on the mound and gives our offense a chance to get on track," pitching coach John Farrell said.

The win not only catapulted the Red Sox into first place in the AL East, it increased the team's home record to 23-5. Boston hasn't lost at Fenway Park since May 1 against Toronto.

The 12-game home winning streak, predicated on a blend of patient, timely hitting and strong pitching, is what's helped the Sox climb past the Rays in the standings.

"We like playing here," Francona said. "We'd be crazy not to."

Mark Remme is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.