Rays swipe series from Red Sox
Crawford's six steals bolster Shields' strong effort
ST. PETERSBURG -- Right from the jump, it looked as though it was going to be a long afternoon for starter James Shields on Sunday.
But instead it ended up being a nice ending to a four-game series against his team's division rivals.
Despite giving up a run and facing the bases loaded with one out in the first inning, Shields got out of that jam and cruised the rest of the way while leading his team to a 5-3 win over the Red Sox in front of 32,332 at Tropicana Field.
The victory gave Tampa Bay three out of four over Boston to snap a streak of six straight losing series since its first of the season at Fenway Park. Dating back to last year, the Rays are 11-2 against the Red Sox during the regular season at Tropicana Field.
"For three out of the four games, we played pretty good baseball," manager Joe Maddon said. "We got really good starting pitching out of [Shields on Sunday]. That set up the whole thing for us."
But while Shields was cruising, Carl Crawford was flying.
The left fielder got on base in each of his five at-bats and wreaked havoc on the basepaths, swiping six bags to give him a Major League-leading 17 on the year and tie the modern-day Major League record.
Combined the Rays stole a club-record eight bases.
"His approach at the plate right now is the best I've ever seen," Maddon said about Crawford, who is now batting .317. "He's willing to accept his walk. He's just got a real pro at-bat going on right now.
"When a good basestealer gets on base a lot, part of the common sense is that he becomes more comfortable, and he steals more bases. Not just because he's out there. So he's got a lot of things working in a positive way right now."
The Rays got on the board in the bottom of the first off Red Sox starter Brad Penny thanks to an RBI double by Carlos Pena to tie the game at 1. In the fourth, Tampa Bay took a 3-1 lead on a broken-bat single by Jason Bartlett and a dropped exchange by Red Sox shortstop Julio Lugo on a potential inning-ending double-play ball off the bat of Michel Hernandez.
Meanwhile, Shields was dealing.
After throwing 30 pitches to seven batters in a first inning that saw J.D. Drew get the Red Sox on the board with an RBI single, the 27-year-old right-hander settled in nicely, allowing just three baserunners in the next six innings. During that span he threw just 64 pitches and put only one runner in scoring position.
"As a starting pitcher, you never want to throw 30 pitches in the first inning," Shields said. "Fortunately, we made some good plays in the outfield and in the infield, and we kind of minimized my damage. I established my fastball after that first inning, so it helped out."
More important, Shields also got his changeup going.
"My main focus was to get my changeup back," he said. "That's my weapon, that's what I'm here for, and I think everything else comes and falls behind that."
With the Rays leading, 4-1, in the eighth, Shields -- who got the win after being charged with two runs on six hits with two walks and six strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings -- gave way to J.P. Howell with a man on first and one out. Two batters later, Kevin Youkilis hit a two-run homer just over the wall in straightaway center field to cut Tampa Bay's lead to one.
But the Rays were able to hold on thanks to an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth.
And guess what? It was Crawford's speed that was responsible for it.
With two outs and Bartlett on third base after yet another Rays steal, Crawford hit a slow roller to shortstop but beat Lugo's throw to give the Rays a two-run lead.
Thanks to that, Troy Percival was able to notch the comfortable save in the top of the ninth for the win -- and perhaps the start of something more.
"Hopefully, it's the start of something," Crawford said. "We have to pick it up if we want to get to where we were at last year, so hopefully, it was the start of something. We have division guys coming in [with a series with Baltimore starting on Monday], and we definitely want to win those games."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.