ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP)—No punches, no angry words exchanged.
James Shields scattered five hits over 6 1-3 innings and B.J. Upton and Gabe Gross homered, helping the Rays remain unbeaten at home against the Red Sox with a 5-4 victory that hiked their lead to 1 1/2 games in the division.
“This is an intense series,” Boston’s Mike Lowell said. “I know there’s a little history, but I think both teams played good baseball.”
The Rays (50-32), surprising owners of the best record in baseball, have won six of seven and shrugged off a six-game losing streak to Boston, which is 6-0 against Tampa Bay at Fenway Park but 0-4 at Tropicana Field.
It was the first meeting between the combative division rivals since their much talked about June 5 benches-clearing brawl at Fenway that led to the suspensions of eight players, including Shields (6-5).
Both managers said beforehand that they didn’t anticipate any carryover from the melee that ensued after Shields hit Coco Crisp in the leg with a pitch during the second inning of a 7-1 Tampa Bay loss.
“I knew from both sides nothing was going to happen. It was over,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “We’re professionals, they’re professionals, and all that business is in the past.”
Shields was suspended for six games for his part in the brawl. This time, he limited Boston to two runs before Tampa Bay’s bullpen barely held on to hand the Red Sox their 11th straight one-run road loss.
Grant Balfour bailed the Rays out of a jam in the seventh, and J.P. Howell got the final out of the ninth after Boston scored twice on Brandon Moss’ RBI double and Jason Varitek’s sacrifice fly off Troy Percival trim the Red Sox deficit to one run.
Percival limped off the mound after appearing to tweak a sore hamstring backing up the plate on Varitek’s sacrifice fly. Percival had an animated argument with Rays manager Joe Maddon before leaving.
“Percy was very upset, and I knew he was going to be very upset. He and I go way back, and everything’s going to be fine between he and I,” Maddon said. “He’s been (closing games) for years and I know he wants to be the last man standing, but I have to do what I believe is right at that particular moment.”
The 38-year-old closer apologized to the manager.
“I hate coming off the mound in the middle of the inning—don’t like doing it, and it’s embarrassing—but Joe did the right thing. … I know better than to act like that. The situation got the better of me.”
Howell earned his second save in three opportunities when Julio Lugo lined out to shortstop.
J.D. Drew hit his 16th homer for Boston, cutting Shields’ lead to 4-2 in the sixth. It gave him 12 homers in June, third-most by a player in Red Sox history behind Jackie Jensen (14 in 1958) and Ted Williams (13, 1950).
Lowell drove in Boston’s first run with a fourth-inning single off Shields, who walked one and struck out five.
The Rays scored four runs off Justin Masterson (4-2), three of them following two-out walks. Upton homered on the right-hander’s first pitch of the game, and Gross added a two-run shot after the Boston starter walked Dioner Navarro in the fourth.
A two-out walk to Wily Aybar also proved costly when Carlos Pena followed with a RBI double to make it 4-1 in the fifth. Jonny Gomes drove in what turned out to be the deciding run when he grounded into a force play with the bases loaded in the seventh.
Shields departed after giving up a leadoff single to Lowell and retiring Kevin Youkilis on a soft liner to shortstop in the seventh. Trever Miller walked Moss before Balfour escaped the jam by getting Varitek to foul out to the catcher and Lugo to hit a grounder back to the mound.
Both Varitek and Lowell said they think Tampa Bay has the capability to hang in the division race for the long haul.
“It’s no fluke. They’re a talented group,” Lowell said. “I think a lot of times when you have a lot of young guys, you don’t know how they measure up. There’s no track record. But I think the talent is there. You’ve got to respect that.”
Boston played without Crisp, who will miss the entire series while finishing his five-game suspension. Rays 2B Akinori Iwamura served the last game of his three-game ban should return to the lineup Tuesday night. … Boston had been in first place for 25 consecutive days before Sunday’s loss at Houston dropped them behind the Rays. … Upton’s homer was his first since June 8. … Crisp is eligible to return to Boston’s lineup Thursday for the start of a four-game series against the New York Yankees. … Lowell, who was 3-for-4, is 17-for-32 during a season-high eight-game hitting streak.