Another important number to the Red Sox is three. That's how many games they trail the Rays by in the American League East.
Starter Jon Lester proved to be the difference-maker in this series filled with run scoring and clutch hitting. While Boston continued to toss big numbers on the scoreboard, Lester dominated early and set the tone for a much less dramatic win.
"Jonny was really good," catcher Jason Varitek said. "It was well needed, the way things went yesterday. It really allowed us to keep our bats going, and he kept [the score] there. He just did a great job."
That's nothing new to Lester, who improved to 11-4 on the year. He's 8-1 in his last nine decisions, dating back to June 5, against Tampa Bay.
Working each batter with a look of confidence and determination, Lester breezed through his first seven innings of work. Over those frames, he allowed just three hits and never allowed more than one baserunner at a time.
"I was feeling pretty good," Lester said. "Early on, I was able to establish first-pitch strikes, and I was around the zone. With this team, if you establish strikes early on, you can get some easy outs later. I was able to do that."
Meanwhile, for the second straight night, Kevin Youkilis got the job done from the plate. Youkilis belted doubles in his first three at-bats off Rangers starter Luis Mendoza, scoring all three times while batting in two runs of his own in the third. He'd finish 3-for-4 in the contest, one night after pounding two homers -- including Tuesday's game-winner in the eighth.
"I just try to put some good at-bats here," Youkilis said. "They give me opportunities by walking David [Ortiz]. When you get nobody out or one out and the bases loaded, it's always fun."
Youkilis saw such scenarios again in this contest. He belted his first double to lead off the second inning. His second came with one out in the third and two runners onboard, both of whom scampered home.
The third two-bagger came with Ortiz on first in the fifth. Both Youkilis and Ortiz would come home on a Jed Lowrie double two batters later.
Lowrie is in the middle of a hot stretch of his own, in which he's driven in 17 runs in 12 games played. He has 21 RBIs since being recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket in mid-July to take over at shortstop for the injured Julio Lugo.
"When guys go down, we need guys to fill in and do a great job," Youkilis said. "Jed's been doing an unbelievable job filling in for Lugo. He's got a lot of RBIs, and that's a good thing when you can have guys step up and have big hits."
Lowrie and Jason Bay each pounded home two runs, giving Youkilis a strong complement to his torrid play as of late.
While the Sox lineup continued to scorch through Rangers pitching, Lester remained on cruise control until the eighth. Harboring a seven-run lead, the left-hander hardly broke a sweat while battling one of the fiercest lineups in baseball.
"I thought he was tremendous," manager Terry Francona said. "I thought he had power on his two-seamer and his cutter."
But in the eighth, he gave up a solo homer to Ian Kinsler, then allowed back-to-back singles. Mike Timlin came on in relief and surrendered a three-run homer to Milton Bradley, allowing the Rangers to cut the deficit to four runs. Timlin would strike out the next batter -- Brandon Boggs -- and Javier Lopez would finish out the frame.
"It's a shame, the inherited runners scored," Francona said of the two runs charged to Lester after he'd left the contest. "I really thought he pitched really, really well.
"[The] last thing I wanted to see was a ball leaving the ballpark, because he pitched so well. I don't doubt he could have gotten out of it himself, I just thought it was the right thing for the rest of the season."
Was Lester upset that he couldn't finish the eighth?
"As a competitor, you don't want to be taken out of the game," Lester said. "But that's the manager's call. It's his job, that's what he does, and I'm not going to sit out there and argue with him about it."
With Lester's night done and the Sox escaping the eighth inning with just a four-spot on the board, Justin Masterson came on to finish the ninth.
Outslugging the power-hitting Rangers in two consecutive games and aiming toward a sweep on Thursday is a good feeling for this Red Sox clubhouse.
"This team here, you can't count on a lead, and you have to get them out," Youkilis said. "Because these guys can swing the bat real well. That's what they're known for, and that's why they're [at the] top offensively in a lot of categories."