The rain is the only thing that halted another strong daytime start for Jon Lester.

Jason Varitek homered and drove in three runs to back Lester as the Red Sox earned a 9-3 win over the Oakland Athletics Saturday in the opener of a rain-soaked split doubleheader at Fenway Park.

Two delays totaling three hours slowed a game moved up to noon to make room for the nightcap, which was moved up from today to avoid Hurricane Irene's effects. Fans with tickets for the 5:05 p.m. start were allowed through the turnstiles during the 2-hour, 15-minute delay in the eighth inning of Game 1. The game ended at 6:08 p.m.

The delay also ended Lester's start after six innings. He allowed two runs, one of them earned, walked two and fanned four, improving to 7-0 with a 1.54 ERA in nine afternoon starts.

Lester (14-6) held down an Oakland lineup that had averaged nine runs in its previous four games.

"His cutter's been tremendous," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "Once it rained, he was through."

Lester started under bright skies, but heavy rain fell on and off during the middle innings before play was halted the first time as he was ready to take the mound in the seventh. He didn't come back when the game resumed after the first delay of 45 minutes.

"The conditions were really bad. The mound wasn't bad, but any time you took the ball out of your glove, it was wet," Lester said. "I had no grip. I was trying to tell the umpires that. Maybe the second time it went to the backstop made them realize it wasn't safe."

The second delay came after Varitek bounced weakly to the mound, ending the seventh.

Crew chief Tim McClelland told a reporter between games that the first game had to end before the second could be started. No way to call it early and then finish the doubleheader.

"Yes. That's what Joe [Torre] told me," McClelland said. Torre is the executive vice president of baseball operations.

David Ortiz had a pair of doubles and drove in two runs and Mike Aviles collected three singles for the Red Sox, who won for the seventh time in 10 games to improve their AL East lead to 11/2 games over the second-place Yankees.

Brandon Allen hit a solo homer for the Athletics, who lost for the fourth time in 11 games a day after scoring a season-high 15 runs to win the series opener.

-- AP

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