BOSTON — The brawl between the Rays and Red Sox may have occurred Thursday night.
But it stemmed from a play in the sixth inning Wednesday, when Coco Crisp was upset over Rays SS Jason Bartlett dropping his knee to block the bag at second base. Crisp wanted to "send a message" with his hard slide into Akinori Iwamura, and James Shields delivered one of his own Thursday by hitting Crisp with a pitch.
But Bartlett had a message of his own: there was no malice involved in dropping his knee.
"People think I do it on purpose, and it's hard to explain; if a throw is right here, I'm not gonna drop my knee," Bartlett said. "The throw was in the dirt to my right, and the natural instinct is to put my knee down to try to pick it. And my knee happened to be there."
Bartlett said he has dropped his knee before, even a couple of times as a member of the Twins against the Rays. He said Rocco Baldelli came up to him once and politely told him to watch his knee next time. Rays manager Joe Maddon said that after Bartlett did that to the Rays last year as a member of the Twins he instructed his team to slide feet-first.
Bartlett, who was "surprised" at Crisp's reaction, said after the centerfielder's hard slide into Iwamura in the eighth Wednesday, he thought to himself, "I should have taken the throw, and everything would have been done with."
IN THE SWING: With his team's recent struggles at the plate, Maddon held a team meeting before batting practice Thursday to go over their approach, especially with two strikes. The Rays entered Thursday's game ranked sixth in the majors in strikeouts (after 10 on Wednesday), and they had nine more Thursday for a 443 total. With two strikes, the Rays entered Thursday hitting .238 overall, and .282 with less than two strikes.
"There are a lot of runs involved in that, there are a few RBIs involved in that," Maddon said of the two-strike hitting. "There are game-changing events involved in that."
BACK UP AGAIN: OF Justin Ruggiano said he expected this could be an "up-and-down" year.
The 26-year-old, a candidate for a backup outfielder spot this spring, began his third stint with the Rays on Thursday, going 2-for-4 and starting in rightfield. Ruggiano, called up Wednesday when Carlos Pena was placed on the disabled list (broken left index finger), will likely see a lot of at-bats against left-handed pitching. Ruggiano had been swinging the bat well at Triple-A Durham, where he was hitting .325 with five home runs, 27 RBIs and 12 stolen bases in 33 games.
"I feel very blessed to be in this situation in the first place," Ruggiano said. "Most 25th-round picks don't get this opportunity. I just love being here and a part of this team."
The Austin, Texas, native will have a homecoming of sorts during this weekend's series against the Rangers, though his parents may not make it. His brother, Brian, is playing for Texas A&M at an NCAA Super Regional on Saturday against Rice.
"That's a once-in-a-lifetime thing," Ruggiano said of his brother's games. "I'd rather they go there."
PERCIVAL PROGRESS: Maddon said closer Troy Percival's rehab of a left hamstring strain is going well. The 38-year-old veteran's 26-pitch bullpen session Wednesday was fine, and he's scheduled to throw another today in Texas. Maddon said there's a good chance Percival is on track to be activated from the disabled list June 13, when he's scheduled to come off. A rehab stint in the minors doesn't appear necessary.
MISCELLANY: Boston's Manny Ramirez and teammate Kevin Youkilis had words at the end of the fourth inning and had to be separated in the dugout. TV cameras showed Ramirez pointing at Youkilis before being escorted down the runway. Manager Terry Francona said: "It wasn't really a big deal. We had a lot of testosterone going tonight."