Friday, June 6, 2008

Center fielder Coco Crisp started a heated exchange between Boston and Tampa Bay on Wednesday by intentionally sliding hard into Rays second baseman Akinori Iwamura.
On Thursday, Tampa Bay starter James Shields ended it with a pitch that grazed Crisp in his first at-bat. That ignited a benches-clearing fracas that led to the ejections of Crisp, Shields and Rays designated hitter Jonny Gomes from a game the Red Sox would go on to win, 7-1.
Despite the hot tempers, the Red Sox executed on the field just as they did during the first two wins in the series and completed the three-game sweep. The victory pushed Boston's division lead to 1 1/2 games.
"Anyone find a full moon tonight? Crazy stuff going on, just a crazy night at the park," first baseman Sean Casey said. "It happens sometimes."
"It was huge; now we're in first place," second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. "It was a big, big series win for us. We've just got to keep going. There are a lot of games left, and we've just got to keep doing our thing."
Emotions certainly were expressed throughout the contest, with Manny Ramirez and Kevin Youkilis exchanging words in the dugout following the bottom of the fourth. The two were separated by teammates before Youkilis took his position on the field and Ramirez walked toward the back hallway of the dugout. Manager Terry Francona said that the exchange was the product of having "a lot of testosterone going."
Still, it was Ramirez who ignited the Boston offense early in the contest, belting his first home run at Fenway since April 19. He followed that three-run shot with a two-out, bases-loaded single in the fourth that brought in two more runs. He finished 2-for-3 with five RBIs.
"We had to have some timely hitting," catcher Jason Varitek said. "Manny hits a big three-run homer right away against a guy [Shields] who has been throwing the ball pretty well."
Ramirez's production gave starter Jon Lester more than enough support. Lester was touched up for just one run on eight scattered hits and recorded his first victory since his no-hitter on May 19.
Lester didn't walk a batter and struck out five, but he did hit two Rays in the outing. But in a game like Thursday's, exchanging hit batsmen was to be expected. Tampa Bay pitchers combined to hit three Red Sox batters, including Crisp, leading to the melee.
It was just one interesting dynamic that took place on an anything but ordinary night at Fenway.
Still, Lester remained poised throughout the stoppages in play and managed to stifle a difficult Rays lineup by mixing spots inside and outside the plate and regulating his offspeed pitches.
"It's a tough lineup, because they're so aggressive -- they swing the bat and they go after a lot of stuff," Lester said. "You try not to go away from your game plan and keep going after guys."
But the victory didn't come without a price. Already unable to perform roster moves with regular designated hitter David Ortiz on the disabled list and Ramirez taking over DH duties because of a hurting right hamstring, the Sox were already shorthanded in the outfield.
Crisp's ejection didn't help, and two innings later, Jacoby Ellsbury injured his right wrist making a diving catch. The Sox used three center fielders in the game -- Ellsbury replaced Crisp after his ejection, then J.D. Drew moved from right to center after Ellsbury exited -- and were forced to use first baseman Youkilis in right to finish the game. Youkilis had originally been given the night off to allow Casey to see playing time.
Ramirez, too, exited early, lifted for a pinch-runner in the eighth inning after an at-bat in which the hamstring appeared to bother him again. He walked during the plate appearance.
Crisp's replacement in the batting order -- recent Triple-A Pawtucket callup Chris Carter, who entered the game in the second in left field -- was the lone bright spot resulting from the outfield's proverbial game of musical chairs. In his Major League debut, Carter recorded two singles in his first two at-bats.
Carter was told by Francona after the contest that he'd be optioned back to the PawSox, making room for Brandon Moss to rejoin the team and fill a spot on Boston's radically changing outfield depth chart.
But that didn't take away from Carter's successful, yet unconventional, debut in the big leagues.
"All of a sudden, I was put in," Carter said. "I just had the adrenaline going. I was just thinking about beating the Rays. It was absolutely incredible. It was a rush."
Lost in all the distractions is what ultimately matters: Boston extended its division lead and will move on to face Seattle on Friday. Lester said that's the main objective, and it's something the team hasn't lost sight of.
"It feels good to go out there and, you know, we really don't worry about the standings," Lester said. "We just try and go out and win, and that's what we did tonight."

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