ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) - James Shields delivered a message to surging Boston with his major league-leading third shutout of the season.
The Red Sox may be sitting on top of the AL East standings following a slow start, however the defending division champion Tampa Bay Rays expect to be there when it's all said and done.
Shields pitched his fourth complete game of the season, cooling Boston's red-hot offense and helping the Rays end the first-place Red Sox's nine-game winning streak with a 4-0 victory on Tuesday night.
In addition to cutting into their deficit in the division to 3 1/2 games, the third-place Rays ruined a Tropicana Field homecoming for Carl Crawford, their ex-teammate who signed a $142 million, seven-year contract with Boston after helping Tampa Bay win the division two of the past three seasons.
``Yes, we are the defending American League East champs and we plan on defending it, recapturing the flag again,' Rays manager Joe Maddon said. ``Don't let anybody think anything differently.'
Crawford went 0 for 3 with one strikeout against Shields (6-4), who allowed five hits, walked three and struck out five. He grounded out with the bases loaded in the first, fouled out in the fourth and fanned on a 12-pitch at-bat in the seventh.
Justin Ruggiano homered off knuckleballer Tim Wakefield (3-2) in the fifth. Tampa Bay added an unearned run without getting a hit in the sixth, when Evan Longoria walked and eventually scored from third on catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia's second passed ball of the inning. Casey Kotchman and John Jaso drove in runs charged to reliever Tommy Hottovy in the eighth.
The Red Sox outscored the Oakland Athletics, New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays 83-36 during the longest winning streak in the majors this year. The Rays cooled them despite getting just four hits off Wakefield, who also walked five and struck out two in seven innings.
Shields, tied with Philadelphia's Roy Halladay for the major league lead in complete games, was the biggest reason. He set a franchise record for shutouts in a season, and he's the first AL pitcher to have three shutouts this early in a season since Randy Johnson and David Cone had three by the middle of June in 1994.
``This was a big game for us,' the 29-year-old right-hander said. ``We've been struggling at home, and to be able to open the series off like that feels really good.'
Crawford was a four-time All-Star in nine seasons with the Rays. He was the longest-tenured player in the franchise's relatively brief history and is the team's career leader in batting average (.296), RBIs (592), hits (1,480), doubles (215), triples (105), extra-base hits (424), runs scored (765) and stolen bases (409).
Many in the crowd of 20,972 stood and cheered, while others booed when the 29-year-old left fielder came to bat with the bases loaded in the first inning. He grounded to first base, ending the threat. The Red Sox, who scored 30 runs in their previous two games, would not have many more opportunities against Shields.
``He kept the ball from hitting our bats pretty good,' Crawford said. ``I know those guys over there, whenever the Red Sox are in town, they take it up a notch. I expected him to pitch one of his best games, and he did.'
Rays manager Joe Maddon played down Crawford's return to Tropicana Field. After all, the Rays faced him during spring training as well as during a regular-season series at Fenway Park in April, when Tampa Bay beat the then-struggling Crawford and Red Sox twice to begin a recovery from a slow start of its own.
``Honestly, I hate to disappoint, but it's really not that big of a deal to us. ... I think more of what you're going to see is for the fans,' Maddon said. ``For us, we've moved on. We've got a bunch of guys that say 'Rays' on the front of their jerseys and that's the group I'm concerned with. Honestly, from our perspective in our dugout, maybe a little with the beginning handshake and stuff, but let's just move this thing along.'
Crawford conceded that it did feel strange walking into the stadium for the first time as the member of an opposing team.
``It was a little different,' Crawford said. ``I still went into the home clubhouse first, just saying hello to everybody.'
Even though he's hitting just .243, Crawford has batted .321 over the past 20 games to raise his batting average from .209 and help Boston pull out of an early season funk.
Crawford endured six losing seasons before the Rays turned it around and made an improbable run to the World Series in 2008.
He said he drew on difficult experiences from some of the lean years to pull out of his season-opening slump with the Red Sox. He also had nice things to say about the third-place Rays.
``I think they're still a dynamic team. They have pitching. They have Longoria in the middle of the lineup. They play good defense. They have a winning attitude. They have a positive manager that makes them believe they can beat anybody,' Crawford said. ``They're still a very good team. You have to be careful with them.'
Notes: Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury has an 11-game hitting streak. ... Tampa Bay's Johnny Damon doubled off Wakefield in the third, extending his franchise-record on-base streak (by hit, walk or hit by pitch) to 39 games. ... The Rays observed a moment of silence for longtime Tampa Tribune columnist and sports editor Tom McEwen, who died June 4 at the age of 88. ... Boston SS Jed Lowrie was out of the lineup for the second straight game due to a sore left shoulder. ... Tampa Bay RHP Jeff Niemann (strained lower back) could rejoin the rotation early next week.
The Associated Press News Service
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