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Leading man: Betts hits MLB-best 16th HR

MLB.com @IanMBrowne

ST. PETERSBURG -- Mookie Betts continues to play the role of slugger from the leadoff spot for the Red Sox.

The star right fielder smashed a three-run homer over the wall in left in the top of the third to give the Red Sox a lead they wouldn't relinquish in an eventual 4-2 win over the Rays on Tuesday night at Tropicana Field.

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ST. PETERSBURG -- Mookie Betts continues to play the role of slugger from the leadoff spot for the Red Sox.

The star right fielder smashed a three-run homer over the wall in left in the top of the third to give the Red Sox a lead they wouldn't relinquish in an eventual 4-2 win over the Rays on Tuesday night at Tropicana Field.

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With the blast, his 16th of the season, Betts reclaimed the MLB lead in homers, passing teammate J.D. Martinez and Orioles shortstop Manny Machado.

"Just continuing to work, continuing to talk to the guys around me, and just continuing to put in the same effort and same work and not get complacent with anything," said Betts.

Tweet from @RedSox: 🔁 pic.twitter.com/ElPKRy85IH

After falling behind in the count 0-2, Betts worked the count full and hammered an 81-mph slider from Jake Faria over the wall in left. The homer had an exit velocity of 103.8 mph and a projected distance of 405 feet, according to Statcast™.

"A slider, just a hanging slider that he left up," said Betts. "Trying to get something in the air there and miss on a double play and it went over the wall."

Betts is just eight home runs shy of equaling his total from last season and more than halfway to his career high of 31 from 2016.

Everyone on the Red Sox is enjoying the show from their leadoff man, who has a glittering slash line of .368/.439/.772.

"He's the best player in the league," said Red Sox ace Chris Sale, who rode the homer from Betts to his fifth win of the season. "I don't think there's any arguing that. You're in awe of him, the way he handles himself, the player he is, the work he puts in. He's not just showing up and going out there and doing that. I think the hard work and dedication is also something to show some respect to."

After moving back and forth from leadoff to the middle of the order the last couple of seasons, Betts is enjoying setting the table for one of the top lineups in the game.

"I think he likes where he's hitting," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. "He understands what it means to this team. I still [remember] that smile, when I mentioned it to him in January. 'You're going to lead off and you're going to swing.' And he was like, 'So you want me to lead off and swing more?' I was like, 'Yeah, man.' It was a great conversation. For him to be ready on pitch one, it means a lot to our team. It means, 'We're ready, here we go."'

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

Boston Red Sox, Mookie Betts