The Red Sox took a 5-1 win over the Rays in front of a crowd of 37,474 at Fenway Park to swap places with the Rays in the American League East standings. The World Series champions are now a half-game in first and Tampa Bay finds itself a half-game out looking up at Boston from second place. But nobody was talking about the standings after the game.
Sparks between the two teams were ignited in the sixth inning when Coco Crisp stole second base, sliding into the base headfirst. Upon reaching the bag, Crisp found the knee of Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett in front of the base, an action Crisp deemed inappropriate and one that caused him to jam his thumb.
"He put his whole knee in front of the bag," Crisp said. "And that's not something you do. You can do that, but that's shady. And he's not a bad dude, but that was shady. If you going to hurt me, I'm gonna come back and hurt you. If you're going to hurt me again, then so be it. On the ball field, that's what it is."
Retribution for Crisp came in the eighth, when he walked and again tried to steal second. This time he went in feet first as though he were trying to break up a double play, but Rays second baseman Akinori Iwamura was covering the base and not Bartlett.
Bartlett "didn't want to cover the bag the second time," Crisp said. "They probably had it changed up because they thought [Julio] Lugo was going to hit the ball to Bartlett's side or something like that. But if you're going to do something like that, I don't care what the situation is, take your own lickin'."
Iwamura returned the question to reporters when asked if he thought Crisp had tried to hurt him.
"What do you think?" Iwamura said. "It's all up to you guys or the fans, what do you think about that play?"
The only thing Bartlett told reporters was, "If it's about that, I don't want to talk about that."
Rays manager Joe Maddon unloaded on Crisp when he went to visit the mound in the eighth, getting into a profanity-laced exchange with Crisp, who stood at the top of the steps to the Red Sox's dugout.
"I was not pleased with the slide," Maddon said. "I totally felt there was intent to hurt our middle infielder and that's what I was upset with. There's no place for that when you intentionally try to hurt somebody."
The fireworks came long after the Red Sox had dictated the outcome of Wednesday night's game.
Edwin Jackson started for the Rays and cruised through the first two innings, retiring six of the first seven batters he faced before finding trouble in the third, when Crisp singled to lead off the inning.
After moving to second on Lugo's groundout, Crisp scored on Jacoby Ellsbury's single. One out later, J.D. Drew doubled home Ellsbury then scored on Manny Ramirez's single to center field to put the Red Sox up, 3-0.
The Rays got on the scoreboard in the fourth, when Evan Longoria drove a double to deep center field and scored on Eric Hinske's single. But the Red Sox answered in the bottom half of the inning on Crisp's sacrifice fly to make it 4-1.
Jackson's outing wasn't a disaster, just a compelling example of how exhausting an experience pitching to the Red Sox can be. He left prior to the sixth having thrown 94 pitches in five innings.
Rays hitters struck out 10 times on the evening, including three by B.J. Upton, whose frustration spilled over in the eighth after getting called out on strikes by home-plate umpire Paul Emmel. Upton barked at Emmel, leading to Upton's first ejection of the season.
"We're striking out way too often," Maddon said. "It's not the umpire's fault, it's our fault. We have to do a better job. It was one of our goals this spring, was to really cut down on the strikeouts, because we struck out way too often last year. We have to make better adjustments and we can't lay it off on anybody else."
When all was said and done, the Rays still found themselves in second place after dropping their fifth game of the season at Fenway Park in five tries. In addition, the defeat ensured that the Rays would take their first series loss since dropping two of three to the Cardinals on May 16-18.
"It's way too early to get overtly concerned about [falling to second place]," Maddon said. "We're playing a very good team. We have not done well here this year and we have to do well here to end up in first place. You just can't do it any other way. We have to do better here."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.