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05/03/08 2:14 AM ET

Rainy night ends in Rays' loss to Sox

Righty Jackson stumbles early; Tampa Bay unable to recover

BOSTON -- First place belongs to the Red Sox.

After a rain delay of two hours and 27 minutes, the reigning World Series champions got busy regaining the top spot in the American League East. They did so with a 7-3 win over the upstart Rays in a Friday night game at Fenway Park that spilled into Saturday morning.

The win put the Red Sox all alone in first place with a record of 18-13 while bumping the Rays back to a second-place tie with the Orioles at 16-13.

Clay Buchholz started for the Red Sox, and though the right-hander wasn't as dominating as he was a week earlier at Tropicana Field, he proved to be more effective.

"He's good," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He's got weapons to get out of jams against righties and lefties. ... That's the second time I've seen him, and he's very impressive. I'm sure he's going to do that to a lot of different teams.

"You do need to get him when you get a chance, because he's got a variety of weapons. He's very quick to the plate, you can't run on him. He does a lot of things well."

Unlike Saturday night, when Buchholz took the loss in a 2-1 Rays win, the rookie got plenty of run support from his teammates -- particularly Dustin Pedroia, who had a two-out RBI double in the third that scored Julio Lugo to put the Red Sox up 1-0.

Rays starter Edwin Jackson retired six of the first seven batters he faced -- and looked impressive while doing so. Even during the third, Jackson rose to the occasion to strike out Manny Ramirez to end the inning, preventing further damage. However, like so many times during Jackson's enigmatic tenure with the Rays, his undoing came via his inability to stay away from the big inning.

Jackson quickly retired the first two batters he faced in the fourth before Brandon Moss rerouted his 2-0 offering and deposited it over the center-field wall for his second home run of the season and a 2-0 lead. But the relentless Red Sox were far from finished in the fourth. Jason Varitek singled and Lugo followed with a walk after being behind 1-2 in the count.

"I was just trying to keep the ball down, trying to make a pitcher's pitch," said Jackson, explaining how he let Lugo get away.

Jacoby Ellsbury then singled home Vartitek, Pedroia singled home two more and David Ortiz added an RBI single to put the Red Sox up 6-0.

"He's going along well -- there's two outs and Moss hits a homer, and that's OK," Maddon said. "The big play, probably of the whole game, was the walk to Lugo. It was a 1-2 count that went from 1-2 to walk. And then Ellsbury, and Pedroia, and Ortiz followed up.

"The home run doesn't bother you with two outs there -- a 2-0 count, gets behind, both fastballs. And he hits a home run to center field. I think the walk to Lugo sets them all up. The fact there were two outs and nobody on, that was the tough part about it."

Jackson, who has talked repeatedly about his focus on trying to stay out of the big inning, lasted just four-plus innings, his shortest start since a 3 1/3-inning appearance Sept. 1 against the Yankees in New York. Jackson said the Red Sox "hit some good pitches."

"I think I threw one pitch that was down the middle, and that was a home run," Jackson said. "Then, whether it was a broken-bat single, a soft line drive or a hard-hit ball -- regardless of whether I made my pitch or not -- the ball found a way to land. I mean, I've had games where I've been erratic. ... Today I challenged them to hit the ball and they just hit the ball."

Jason Bartlett scored the Rays' first run on a wild pitch by Buchholz in the fifth. In the seventh, Akinori Iwamura added a sacrifice fly to drive in the Rays' second run and a Carl Crawford groundout drove home another to cut the Red Sox's lead to 6-3. The Rays had a chance to tie the score when Evan Longoria hit with two outs and two on in the seventh, but Manny Delcarmen struck him out swinging to end the inning.

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