Beating Tampa Bay at home is nothing new for the Boston Red Sox, but it might be a little more significant this season.
The Red Sox will be trying for their second straight sweep of the Rays when the teams wrap up their three-game series at Fenway Park on Thursday with first place in the AL East at stake.
Boston (37-25) beat Tampa Bay (35-24) 5-1 on Wednesday, moving a half-game ahead of the Rays at the top of the division. The Red Sox have won 12 straight at home, their longest streak since a 14-game run July 19-Aug. 26, 2005.
Boston, which owns the best home record in the league at 23-5, has also won five straight at Fenway against the Rays, including a three-game sweep in the last meeting May 2-4. Tampa Bay did sweep the Red Sox in three games in the teams’ first series this season, April 25-27 at Tropicana Field.
The Rays are just 23-66 all-time at Fenway, but until 2008, they struggled against nearly everyone, posting a losing record in each of their first 10 seasons. Tampa Bay is now a franchise-high 11 games over .500 - and starter Edwin Jackson says that means other teams are playing them tougher.
“Regardless of what people say, teams know the teams that are good and play hard,” he said.
Tampa Bay’s success might also have generated something of a rivalry with the Red Sox. Boston’s Coco Crisp started a flareup in the eighth when he slid in on second baseman Akinori Iwamura when he was caught stealing.
Crisp was upset because shortstop Jason Bartlett put his knee down in front of the bag on his successful steal two innings earlier. Manager Joe Maddon thought Crisp was trying to injure Iwamura and barked at Crisp and the Red Sox dugout during a pitching change.
“We’re neck and neck and they have a good ballclub,” Crisp said. “So when you’re playing a team like that, you have to be at your best.”
J.D. Drew went 2-for-3 with and RBI double for the Red Sox after he had a two-run homer, a double and two outstanding catches in right field in Tuesday’s opener. He was batting third in place of slugger David Ortiz, who was placed on the 15-day DL Tuesday with an injured left wrist.
The Rays placed first baseman Carlos Pena, the team leader with 11 homers and 35 RBIs, on the DL Wednesday with a broken left index finger.
Tampa Bay will turn to James Shields (4-3, 3.24 ERA) as it tries to avoid its first three-game skid since getting swept by Boston.
Shields allowed one run in six innings without a decision in Tampa Bay’s 2-1 win over the Chicago White Sox on Friday. The Rays have won each of his last three starts, but he has not received a decision in any of them.
Shields is 1-3 with a 4.76 ERA in six career starts against the Red Sox. He threw a two-hitter against them in Tampa Bay on April 27 in a 3-0 win, but was pounded for seven runs and 10 hits in 3 2-3 innings of a 12-4 loss at Fenway on May 3.
Boston will give the ball to Jon Lester (3-3, 3.67), who is making his third start since throwing a no-hitter against Kansas City on May 19. He has gone five innings in both of his starts since then and gave up three runs without receiving a decision in Boston’s 6-3 win in Baltimore on Saturday.
Lester is 2-0 with a 4.71 ERA in five career starts against the Rays, including a strong six-inning performance in a 7-3 victory at Fenway on May 4.