BOSTON – Josh Hamilton took over the major-league batting lead with three doubles Thursday night, helping the Texas Rangers get off to a quick start in the second half of the season with a six-run first inning on their way to a 7-2 victory against the Boston Red Sox.

“Before the break, I felt like we needed a break. Some of the guys were tired,” Hamilton said. “Everybody got some rest and we came out stronger.”

Bengie Molina homered as Texas batted around in the first inning against Tim Wakefield. Nelson Cruz and Vladimir Guerrero had three hits apiece for the Rangers, who lost their last four games heading into the break — against the lowly Baltimore Orioles — to open July with a 3-8 record.

“I think the break came at the right time,” said Rangers Manager Ron Washington, whose team had gone 21-6 in June. “We were tired. When you play hard for as long as we did, it takes something out of you. We needed the days off and it couldn’t have come at a better time.”

Tommy Hunter (6-0) held Boston to five hits before leaving with a 7-2 lead with two outs in the seventh. He walked two, struck out one and hit a batter, allowing solo homers to Bill Hall and J.D. Drew.

Hamilton raised his batting average to .351 before being replaced by a pinch runner in the seventh inning because of soreness in his calf behind his right knee.

“It was just tight,” he said, adding there was no need for an X-ray or MRI. “I could have stayed in and kept playing. I thought it might be a good time for a break.”

Boston has lost six of its last eight games. Tim Wakefield (3-8) had his shortest outing since September 2008, allowing six earned runs on eight hits and striking out two before leaving three batters into the third inning.

“I’m as dumbfounded as anybody else,” Wakefield said. “I felt like I had some of the best stuff I had all year coming out of the bullpen, but I just didn’t have it tonight.”

The Red Sox had only five regular starters in the lineup because of injuries to Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Beltre, Victor Martinez and Jacoby Ellsbury. Felix Doubront has been called up from the minors to pitch tonight because of injuries to Clay Buchholz and Josh Beckett.

The Rangers entered the game with a 4½ game lead in the AL West despite being swept by Baltimore. That included Hunter’s worst start of the season, in which he took a 4-1 lead into the seventh but didn’t get an out in the inning; the Rangers blew the lead and lost 6-4, and Hunter got a no-decision.

“I left them in a bad situation in my last outing,” he said.

The Rangers didn’t wait long to turn things around.

After Wakefield struck out Elvis Andrus to lead off the game, he gave up six straight hits. Michael Young, Ian Kinsler and Guerrero all singled, Hamilton doubled and Cruz singled to make it 4-0. Molina hit a two-run homer before Wakefield got the bottom two in the order to end the inning.

After a 1-2-3 second, the Rangers put three straight batters on, one on Hall’s error at third base, to make it 7-0 and chase Wakefield.

“They strung together a bunch of hits,” Red Sox Manager Terry Francona said. “He came out in the third and it looked like it was going to be another tough inning so I had to go get him.”

Robert Manuel inherited runners at second and third and nobody out and pitched out of the jam.

NOTES: The Red Sox observed a moment of silence before the game for former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and public-address announcer Bob Sheppard. Wakefield is 2-6 with a 6.75 ERA in nine starts since May 28. Hall made a diving catch on Molina in the fifth.