"It's a luxury for us -- he doesn't care," said Francona. "The only thing he really doesn't like doing is leading off. You put him [in] there on a day like today, when you have a big hole out of your lineup, and look what he does. He gives us production, he always gives you a professional at-bat and it makes it a little bit easier for guys like Manny [Ramirez]. ... When David or Manny doesn't play, our lineup, obviously, looks different. I'm sure the opponents are thrilled when one of those guys isn't in there. But then a guy like Youk steps in and gives us half our offense."
Youkilis, who snapped an 0-for-14 skid with a sixth-inning single Saturday night, hit a sacrifice fly in the first inning Sunday, doubled and scored in the third, led off with a solo homer after Tampa Bay had crawled back into just a one-run deficit in the seventh and had a two-run double in the eighth.
Youkilis' offensive show allowed Jon Lester to get a win in his second straight strong start, after coming up empty his last time out.
The Red Sox left-hander, who pitched eight innings of one-hit shutout ball in a no-decision against Toronto's Roy Halladay in his last start, struggled early Sunday but settled in and worked six strong innings.
"He just missed on a few that barely missed [the plate]," catcher Jason Varitek said of the early struggles. "It's not like he was all over the place."
Varitek would later add the southpaw is taking steps with his development.
"We even added some stuff today to his repertoire," said Varitek. "We're expanding what he can do."
Said Lester: "I've been figuring some things out this year, figuring out how to set guys up more, how to go to other pitches other than what I think are my strengths and get guys out. So I think it's more just confidence than anything.
"I don't know about maturing or anything like that, but I think I have more confidence in my secondary stuff right now."
The win, the fifth in six games on the homestand that ended Sunday, allowed the Sox to avenge the three-game sweep hung on them by these same Rays last weekend in St. Petersburg. It also gave Boston a three-game lead in the American League East, matching its season high.
Lester (2-2) needed 28 pitches in the first inning and a total of 52 in the first two, but he got a big running catch from Jacoby Ellsbury in left field in the first to help him keep the visitors off the board. Lester ran his scoreless streak to 13 innings before Carlos Pena hit a solo home run with one out in the sixth.
Lester walked three and struck out five and wound up with 112 pitches.
"We'll take a good pitching performance from anybody on our staff, but it's fun when you see the young guys, some of the things they work on, take it into a game and then have success with it," Francona said
Reliever Manny Delcarmen managed to make things interesting by giving up two runs in the seventh, but Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon finished it off. Okajima allowed a single to Carl Crawford that made it 4-3 but then struck out B.J. Upton and Pena to end the inning. Okajima got the first two outs in the eighth before a bunt single by Eric Hinske opened the door for Papelbon. Boston's closer retired four straight to notch his ninth save.
The Red Sox got to nemesis Scott Kazmir for four runs (three earned) in four innings in the lefty's 2008 debut.
After Youkilis hit the sacrifice fly in the first inning, Manny Ramirez delivered a run with an RBI double, another scored on a wild pitch in the third and Dustin Pedroia drove in a run with a groundout in the fourth. Youkilis took care of the rest.
Almost lost in the shuffle was the Red Sox swiping five bases (including two double steals) in the win, the first time that's happened since July 3, 2002, against Toronto. Amazingly, the team now has as many stolen bases (26) as home runs in the first 33 games of the season.