ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP)—The Boston Red Sox flexed their muscles, nudging closer to first place in the AL East.
The defending World Series champions homered a season-high six times, overwhelming All-Star Scott Kazmir and division-leading Tampa Bay 13-5 Monday night to pull within percentage points (.002) of ending the Rays’ two-month stay atop the standings.
“These guys have been playing well all year long, and we haven’t been playing well here at all,” Boston reliever Mike Timlin said the Red Sox won for the first time in seven games at Tropicana Field this season.
“It was an amazing game offensively for us. We’ve been working hard to get (to first place) and the Rays have been working hard to keep us from here. It just shows the perseverance of this team.”
“That was just a good old-fashioned whippin’ tonight,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said, adding that he doesn’t expect it to have an adverse effect on his young team the next two games of the series.
“Believe it or not, this is an easier loss to accept. When you lose 2-1 or 3-2 on one play … those are the ones you go home and kind of beat yourself up after.”
The Rays (88-60) went 21-7 in August and were a season-high 5 1/2 games up on Boston heading into September. They’re 4-9 this month, with six of the losses coming against the Red Sox and Yankees, who took two of three from Tampa Bay over the weekend.
The Red Sox (89-61), on the other hand, have won three straight and 10 of 14 in September to get as close to the lead as they’ve been since mid-July, when they erased a five-game deficit in a week to pull ahead by a half game at the All-Star break.
While both teams are in excellent position to make the playoffs, neither wants to settle for the wild card.
“We want to finish first,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “That’s what you set out to do.”
Ortiz, who finished with four RBIs, hit a three-run homer in the first inning after Kazmir (11-7) threw nine straight balls to begin the game. Two batters later, Lowell hit a solo shot for a 4-0 lead.
The Red Sox added seven more runs in the fourth, helping Daisuke Matsuzaka (17-2) become the first Japanese-born pitcher to win 17 games in a season. Hideo Nomo won 16 games for the Los Angeles Dodgers three times (1996, 2002, 2003).
Bay and Varitek homered in the fourth off Kazmir, who allowed nine runs and six hits in three-plus innings—his shortest outing of the season. The four homers he yielded were a career high.
Kazmir said he didn’t feel good warming up, and they only got worse as the night progressed.
“I’m really not going to get down on myself. I just didn’t feel like that was me out there,” the 24-year-old left hander said.
Youkilis hit his 26th homer, a two-run blast in the fourth, and added a RBI double in the sixth, both off Mitch Talbot. Ellsbury also homered off Talbot to give the Red Sox a 12-1 lead in the fifth.
The six homers were the most the Red Sox have hit in a game since Aug. 3, 2003, when they went deep six times against Baltimore.
Matsuzaka, who has won six consecutive decisions since last losing on July 28, allowed Akinori Iwamura’s solo homer and two singles in five innings. Justin Ruggiano and Dan Johnson hit two-run homers off Red Sox reliever Chris Smith.
Timlin pitched the eighth for Boston, making his 1,051st relief appearance— an all-time record for right-handed relievers. He had been tied with Kent Tekulve.
“Quite humbling,” Timlin said of the record. “It’s something I’d been eyeballing all season, and its been out there slowly coming. I was not trying to be excited about it, but I probably will be when the season is over.”
Ortiz was 7-for-37 with one homer and five RBIs lifetime against Kazmir before his first-inning homer. … Kazmir had not allowed a home run to a left-handed batter since Baltimore’s Aubrey Huff homered at Tropicana Field on Sept. 4, 2007. … Ortiz moved ahead of Edgar Martinez into sole possession of second place all-time for home runs as a designated hitter with 244. … Rays CF B.J. Upton, who hasn’t played since Sept. 8 because of a strained left quad, could begin taking batting practice on Tuesday. … Lowell said after the game that he’s planning have surgery on his sore right hip after the season. … … Iwamura has hit four or his six home runs against Boston.