Red Sox in explode mode

BOSTON -- It was an explosive night for the Boston Red Sox.

Not only were they rewarded with a 10-4 victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday night at Fenway Park, they are also back in first place in the AL East for the first time since June 24, thanks to the Yankees losing to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Boston has now won seven of its past eight games.

The Red Sox launched an offensive barrage Thursday with a total of six home runs, as Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez, Jacoby Ellsbury, David Ortiz, Josh Reddick and Jarrod Saltalamacchia all hit one. The last three were back-to-back-to-back shots in the bottom of the seventh inning.

"Our guys did a great job," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "We scored and then we added on. Pedey with the big hit early to get us back in it and then we kept fighting and getting big hits the rest of the way."

Pedroia's three-run homer in the bottom of the third inning, which gave Boston a 3-2 advantage, went completely out of the ballpark. It was just the second time Pedroia has done that.

"Damn! What's up with that, man?" Ortiz said. "He hit that ball to the parking lot. Pedey impresses me every day. Wow! That was impressive. He hit that ball to the moon."

Sure, being back in the top spot in the division is a good thing, but it's only July and there's still half a season to be played.

"Good," Pedroia answered when asked about being back in first. "But we've got a lot of games left. The goal is to be there in the end and not in the middle of the year."

The home runs Thursday were good, too. But there was something more important in this win against the lowly Orioles that stood out: It's clear Ortiz is feeling comfortable at the plate again.

During the recent interleague road schedule at National League parks, the designated hitter is not used, which meant Ortiz's playing time was minimal. Starting on June 20 against the San Diego Padres at Fenway Park, Ortiz went the next 11 games through Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Houston without a hit before snapping a 0-for-23 skid Monday with a lazy ground-rule double down the third-base line against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park.

It had been the longest hitless skid of his career.

The following day he was on the field for extra batting practice, saying the interleague schedule got him out of his comfort zone and he needed to find a way back in because Boston's potent lineup needs him to keep the line moving.

He is starting to find that groove once again.

"Tonight he looked great," Pedroia said. "He was taking the ball the other way. When you lose playing time in those [interleague] games, it's tough because you lose your timing. He'll get back into it. He's a huge part of our lineup. He's a run-producing machine. It's tough for us to go play interleague games for 10 days and not have him in there consistently. He'll find a way."

Along with Ortiz's laser-like home run to dead center field Thursday, he added an opposite-field double, which means he's seeing the ball well.

"There's not too much you can do about it, but it gets you off, no question about it," Ortiz said of losing at-bats during interleague play. "I'm back to normal. The more I play the better I feel."

Before his recent slump, Ortiz was hitting .323. He dipped to .301 before the Red Sox returned to Fenway earlier this week.

Since returning home, he's 4-for-13 with three doubles, a home run and four walks.

"I think getting out of the National League where we had nine games in a row without David, he's our DH and we need him," Saltalamacchia said. "Obviously that kind of killed what we had going beforehand, but now we're back in our park and we got him back in there."

In the bottom of the second inning, Ortiz led off with an opposite-field double. He flied out to right in the third inning, walked in the fifth and tore the cover off the ball in the seventh.

"He's got that much power," said Reddick, who was standing in the on-deck circle when Ortiz crushed his 18th homer of the season. "He's shown that over the years, and he was just staying back on a great pitcher. I think him and Adrian were both impressive and staying back on pitches. That's what they do, that's what they get paid to do, and that's what they keep showing the fans."

Ortiz's homer was the 145th career shot at Fenway Park, tying him with Bobby Doerr for fifth all-time at this ballpark.

No doubt the Red Sox have one of the most potent lineups in the majors. If healthy, it should do some serious damage in the AL East in the second half of the season. Not only is Ortiz heating up, but injured outfielder Carl Crawford (hamstring strain) is expected back in the lineup July 18 at Baltimore.

It was an explosive night for the Red Sox, and with three games remaining against the Orioles in this series Boston has a chance to sprint to the break.

"We needed that," Ortiz said. "Everybody is swinging the bat pretty good and we're about to get [Crawford] back and it'll get no better than that."

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.