ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) – With Boston needing to win to hang on to first place in the AL East, the Red Sox knew they could count on David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez.

“They’re special to watch,” Kevin Millar said Tuesday night after the sluggers both hit two 400-foot homers to help Curt Schilling and the defending world champions to a 15-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Ortiz hit his AL-leading 45th and 46th homers and drove in four runs. Ramirez had three RBIs and joined Ortiz, Trot Nixon and Jason Varitek with four hits for the Red Sox, who remained one-half game in front of the New York Yankees, who beat Baltimore 12-9.

Nixon homered and drove in three runs, and Varitek contributed two RBIs as Boston rebounded from Monday night’s 8-7 loss to the last-place Devil Rays, a setback that left the Red Sox clinging to their thinnest lead in the division in two months.

“The standings don’t mean anything right now,” Millar said. “You fight until the end and see where the chips lay.”

Boston finished with 21 hits and tied an AL record with four players with four apiece. The Red Sox are the first team to accomplish the feat since Minnesota did it against Cleveland on June 24, 2002.

Ortiz hit two-run homers off Seth McClung (6-11) in the first and third innings, giving him home runs in three straight at-bats over two games and his second consecutive four-RBI game against the Devil Rays.

Ortiz’s first home run traveled an estimated 402 feet to right field. The second was an even more majestic 451-foot shot to right-center.

“On the second ball, (John) Olerud had the best line: “They need to put out a public address and tell the children to be careful.’ It was a gorgeous swing from a very strong man,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said.

Ortiz boosted his major league-leading RBI total to 140 and is batting .447 with eight homers, 18 RBIs and 13 runs scored during a 10-game hitting streak. His 46 homers are a club season record for a left-handed batter and tie Jim Rice for the second-most hit by a Red Sox in one year.

Ramirez followed Ortiz’s first-inning shot with his 37th homer which traveled 433 feet. Nixon’s two-run blast off McClung finished a four-run third.

Schilling (7-8) allowed two runs and six hits, struck out seven and walked one in seven innings to improve to 2-3 in six starts since returning to the rotation on Aug. 25. The six-time All-Star gave up a solo homer to Jorge Cantu in the first and watched the speedy Carl Crawford score from second base on Cantu’s sacrifice fly to deep center.

in the third.

Ortiz singled in the fourth and fifth, giving him hits in six consecutive at-bats. He grounded out in the sixth to snap the streak.

The slugger scored on Nixon’s RBI single in the fourth and again in the fifth when Ramirez hit a 418-foot shot off Joe Beimel for his third multihomer game of the season and 42nd of his career.

Ortiz has nine multihomer games, one shy of the Red Sox record set by Jimmie Foxx in 1938. He has 10 homers in 18 games against Tampa Bay this season, while Ramirez has homered seven times against the Devil Rays.

Notes: The Red Sox last had four players with four hits on June 8, 1950, against the St. Louis Browns. … Ortiz has 27 homers on the road, a Red Sox record. Ted Williams had 26 in 1957. … Cantu’s two RBIs gave him a Devil Rays’ season record 109. Aubrey Huff drove in 107 in 2003. … McClung has allowed seven homers in 9 1-3 innings over his last three starts, all losses. Ortiz has three homers in five at-bats against the right-hander this season.

AP-ES-09-21-05 0000EDT

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