By MARC TOPKIN
Times Staff Writer
BOSTON — Maybe it was the late hour, with the game delayed 2½ hours by rain and not finishing until nearly 1 this morning. Maybe it was the raw conditions, with wet grounds and temperatures in the 40s. Maybe it was the stage of Fenway Park.
Whatever the reason, the Rays didn't look like a first-place team Friday night. And they definitely didn't play like one, losing the game, 7-3, and the American League East lead, to the Red Sox.
Edwin Jackson didn't do much to validate the decision to keep him in the rotation and shift Jason Hammel to the bullpen, allowing five runs after two were out in the fourth inning, and six overall without getting out of the fifth.
"His stuff was good and he was throwing the ball well and all of a sudden it got away from him," manager Joe Maddon said. "Physically he was very good. He just let it get away."
It wasn't all Jackson's fault.
The offense was markedly unproductive, getting six men on in the first three innings and none of them home, having two runners thrown out at the plate, and leaving eight on while going 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position.
And Carl Crawford had a rough night, making an ill-advised break for home on an infield grounder for an inning-ending double play in the fifth, then misplaying a line drive.
The Rays (16-13) came into the game in an unusual position, in first place by percentage points ahead of the Sox. It was the first time they'd ever been on top later than the opening week of a season, and just the third time they'd been four games over .500. They'd also won eight of nine, including a sweep of the Sox at the Trop last weekend, and three consecutive series.
The Rays didn't do much against Sox starter Clay Buchholz last weekend at the Trop, at least not until Akinori Iwamura knocked a curveball over the fence in the eighth, but had plenty of chances Friday.
They opened the second with two walks, but got nothing, with Evan Longoria thrown out at the plate to end the inning. They had two on to start the third, too, but Buchholz came back to strike out the side.
They got a run in the fifth with a walk, a Crawford double and a wild pitch. But any chance for more evaporated when Jonny Gomes grounded to third and Crawford broke for home, and the Sox got them both out.
They got two on to start the seventh, got two runs on a pair of outs, then got two more on and had Longoria at the plate as the tying run, but reliever Manny Delcarmen struck out him out.
"We had ample opportunities early on to do different things and we just didn't take advantage," Maddon said.
The Sox were due for some kind of offensive breakout, having scored just four runs total in their previous five games. It was the first time they had gone five straight without scoring more than two runs in any game since 2001.
Jackson certainly made it easier for them, continuing his pattern of being consistently inconsistent. Last Saturday, he allowed just one run on five hits and three walks and worked seven innings. Friday, he was gone after allowing 12 of the 24 batters he faced to reach, and throwing 87 pitches.
He was down 1-0 and had two outs in the fourth when he left a 2-0 pitch over the plate and Brandon Moss hit it over the centerfield fence. Maddon was okay with that, and the ensuing single to Jason Varitek.
But Jackson was a strike from being out of the inning when he instead walked No. 9 hitter Julio Lugo, and it quickly went bad from there, as Jacoby Elllsbury, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz singled.
"The big play probably of the whole game was the walk to Lugo," Maddon said. "It was a 1-2 count that went from 1-2 to walk. And then Ellsbury, and then Pedroia, and then Ortiz followed up. The home run does not bother you. … The walk to Lugo is kind of what set them all up."
Jackson said he was "just trying to keep the ball down, make a pitcher's pitch."
Overall, Jackson said he did better than it looked. "They hit some good pitches," he said. "I think I threw one pitch down the middle and it was a home run. Whether it be broken-bat single, or 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've had games where I've been erratic for four innings and it looked real bad, but today I challenged them to hit the ball and they just hit the ball."
The start of the game was delayed nearly 2½ hours by rain, first pitch coming at 9:32, with a temperature of just 46 degrees.
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.