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Rays 3, Red Sox 0

Shields pitches two-hit shutout as Rays sweep Red Sox, tie for first

ST. PETERSBURG — There was so much to see and hear at Tropicana Field on Sunday afternoon. Rays players starring on the field and stumbling later for adjectives to describe what they accomplished ("Huge" was most popular), Rays fans waving brooms as Boston fans left early — and quietly, Rays manager Joe Maddon (of all people) preaching caution.

But it wasn't until the place had finally quieted down that came the most unusual scene: the Rays, after a 3-0 series-sweeping victory over Boston that ran their winning streak to six, tied for first atop the American League East.

"It's a lotta fun," veteran leftfielder Carl Crawford said. "It's been good. It's been like one of the best weeks in franchise history. We're just going to try to keep it going right now.

"We've got that feeling of winning, and we kind of like it."

By winning again, and extending their franchise-best start to 14-11, the Rays went three games over .500, and into first place, later than ever. And they are confident they can keep it up.

They won because James Shields wouldn't have it any other way, delivering an absolutely dazzling performance with a two-hit complete game, facing just two batters over the minimum 27.

And because they didn't let equally brilliant Boston ace Josh Beckett beat them despite his career-high 13 strikeouts, scoring with hustle (Jason Bartlett from first on an errant pickoff, and from second after a stolen base) and muscle (rookie Evan Longoria's home run).

"It's a great feeling; it's a great moment," Maddon said. "It's very early in the season, but we need to prove to ourselves we can do these kind of things. …

"For them to come in here and us to play three real quality games against them and win them is big for us as a team in 2008 and as an organization and as a franchise.

"I don't think we've ever done this before (sweep a three-game series from the Red Sox). And it's not just about winning the games. It's how we won them, too."

In a sense it was a retro weekend, as the Rays did it the old-fashioned way, with pitching, defense and timely hitting. And it was a living example of what Maddon often preaches, the importance of playing the game right.

"I think it's a confidence builder and it indicates or proves to you that you can do those things, that we can play with these guys and that we can compete and we can win if we don't make mistakes and we pitch well," Maddon said.

"It's all about the preparation, all the things we've talked about the last three years. … It's not any big secret. It's not like we did anything spectacularly well except we played the game properly."

With Beckett off to a blazing start, striking out the first five batters, then a sixth after Eric Hinske's single, the Rays knew it would be tough to beat the defending World Series champs again.

But Shields was just as impressive, allowing only three baserunners, one-out singles by Dustin Pedroia in the first and ex-Ray Julio Lugo in the sixth and a leadoff walk to Manny Ramirez in the fifth. Ramirez, who stole his first base in more than three years, was the only one to get to second base.

The Rays went ahead in the third, when Bartlett singled and came all the way around as Beckett made an errant pickoff throw and rightfielder J.D. Drew made a poor throw home.

In the seventh, Longoria simply decided he wasn't going to strike out a third time, battling back from an 0-and-2 count and driving the sixth pitch he saw from Beckett, a curveball, over the leftfield seats. They made it 3-0 in the eighth, when Crawford knocked in Bartlett, and Shields finished it from there.

"This is huge for us," Shields said. "This is what we want, everyone to know we can compete in this league."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

>>fast facts

First things first

With Sunday's win, the Rays:

• Are in first place later in a season than ever (last on April 16, 2004, at 5-4).

• Are three games over .500 later in a season than ever (last on April 24, 1999, at 11-8).

• Have best record (14-11) in team history through 25 games.

• Swept three-game series from Red Sox for first time.

Shields pitches two-hit shutout as Rays sweep Red Sox, tie for first 04/27/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 29, 2008 3:50pm]

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