ARLINGTON, Texas -- David Ortiz immediately tossed the bat aside. Big Papi hadn't forgotten the home run trot.
And the Boston Red Sox haven't forgotten how to make September exciting in Beantown.
Ortiz homered for the first time in 20 games, Paul Byrd pitched 6 2/3 scoreless innings for his fourth consecutive victory and the Red Sox beat the Texas Rangers 7-2 on Sunday, moving within 1½ games of the AL East lead.
Boston (84-58) is the closest it has been to division-leading Tampa Bay since July 28. Six of the next nine games are against the skidding Rays, starting Monday night at Fenway Park.
"Now we get to go home and play hopefully some of the most exciting baseball of the year," manager Terry Francona said. "We've played ourselves into a position where these games are really important. It's exciting. We feel good about ourselves, about how we're playing."
Jason Bay also hit a home run and Alex Cora had an RBI triple for the Red Sox, who have won 14 of 18 games. Boston, the AL wild-card leader by 6½ games over Minnesota, has been second in the division for 52 days since holding a half-game lead over Tampa Bay at the All-Star break.
"They're as good as anybody out there," Rangers manager Ron Washington said of the defending World Series champs. "One thing they've got is they've been there. ... Tampa Bay's never been in that situation. The Angels are the Angels. If you're asking me to make a pick, it's Boston."
The Rays were swept in their weekend series at Toronto and have lost five of six overall.
"There's no other story than us focusing on ourselves and what we have to do, period, like we've been doing," Red Sox captain Jason Varitek said.
Ortiz had last hit a home run Aug. 14, and the 19-game homerless streak matched the longest in his six seasons with Boston. But his 415-foot, two-run shot to right-center in the fifth off Brandon McCarthy (1-1) put Boston up 4-0. It was his 18th home run, fifth in 10 games against Texas.
"That was a nice swing," Francona said, shaking his head.
Ortiz said the partially torn tendon sheath in his left wrist that caused him to miss 45 games in June and July is still bothering him.
"My hand is not OK," Ortiz said. "But we're winning so I don't pay attention to it. You try not to think about it. You just play."
Since being acquired from Cleveland on Aug. 12, Byrd (11-11) is 4-1 in five starts. The right-hander has won eight of nine overall since a five-game losing streak before the All-Star break.
When Byrd walked to the dugout after being pulled, he saluted cheering Red Sox fans, who were the majority in the crowd of 28,644 in a game played opposite the Dallas Cowboys' season opener.
"I've never come out of a game on the road where I got a standing ovation. ... I didn't know whether to tip my hat, what to do," Byrd said. "I'm fired up, coming from Cleveland where the games didn't mean anything after a while and being in the thick of a pennant race."
The only other time Texas got a runner past first against Byrd was in the third, but he got out of a bases-loaded jam -- after a hit batter and a walk -- when Michael Young struck out swinging.
Varitek hit a two-out single in the second and Cora followed with a triple into the right-field corner. Coco Crisp then singled in Cora to extend his hitting streak to a season-best nine games.
McCarthy allowed six runs over 5 1/3 innings. The right-hander gave up only five runs in 16 innings his other three starts since being activated from the 60-day disabled list two weeks ago (right forearm inflammation).
Rookie catcher Taylor Teagarden made sure Texas, which leads the majors with 787 runs, avoided its sixth shutout since the All-Star break when he led off the eighth with a home run. He added an RBI single in the ninth.
- Boston's Dustin Pedroia went 1-for-4 with an RBI single to keep his AL-best average at .330, three points better than Milton Bradley, the Rangers' designated hitter held out for the second successive day because of left wrist soreness.
- Boston plays 13 of its past 19 games at Fenway Park, where its 456th consecutive regular-season sellout Monday night will set a major league record.
- Pedroia went to a knee and stabbed a hard one-hopper by Hank Blalock in the second to start a nifty double play. He then twisted and threw to Cora, who made the relay throw as he jumped to avoid a sliding runner.
- Three of Teagarden's five hits in five major league games are home runs.