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Tampa Bay Rays looking to turn season around at Fenway

The Rays are so desperate to change things, they're hoping that the two-day visit to the high-intensity atmosphere of Boston provides the jolt they need.

"I'd like to think it's going to perk us up a bit," manager Joe Maddon said.

"We're not playing the way we want to play right now," said RHP James Shields, who starts tonight. "We need to pick our game up. We're going to Boston, and that's two games we definitely need to pick our intensity up a little bit."

The Rays, who have lost 19 of 31, swept the Red Sox in a mid-April visit to Fenway that now seems oh so long ago. The Sox returned the favor in a three-game series in late May at the Trop.

And now with the Rays trailing the pack in third place, they meet five times in the next nine days — at Boston tonight and Wednesday, in St. Petersburg on Monday-July 7.

"It's just going to be the same old dogfight, man," Maddon said. "It's interesting; it's a lot of fun. I really anticipated or expected that we would be among two or three teams together — Boston, ourselves and the Yankees — so none of this is surprising."

RHP Matt Garza, who starts Wednesday, said the Sox are the ones who should be worried.

"The scary part is we haven't been playing good baseball, so when we click back on, and it looks like it's going to happen pretty soon, a lot of scary stuff's going to happen to everybody else," he said.

"So I think they know where we're at. And Boston's been hit with real bad injuries lately … they're the ones who have the tough climb."

News alert: Several questions should be answered today, starting with whether CF B.J. Upton is going to be disciplined — benched or suspended — for Sunday's lack of hustle on the field and ensuing dugout altercation with Evan Longoria.

There is the possibility — perhaps as much as 60-40 — that Carl Crawford returns to the lineup, at least as DH, having been limited to pinch-running since leaving Thursday's game with a sore shoulder.

And there is the expected activation of OF Gabe Kapler, who has been on the DL with a hip flexor strain, which will force the Rays to drop another player, possibly DH Hank Blalock. Kapler finished his rehab at Class A Charlotte by going 0-for-4.

Starry-eyed: Crawford is in a tight race for the final starting spot in the AL All-Star outfield with voting on and concluding at 11:59 Thursday night. Crawford has a slim lead over Texas' Nelson Cruz, 1,782,035-1,621,771. Both are behind Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki (1,924,904) and Texas' Josh Hamilton (1,906,350).

Longoria, with 3,118,600 votes, third most overall, has a huge lead over New York's Alex Rodriguez at third base. Full rosters for the July 13 game will be announced Sunday.

Bill Criswell of Windemere was chosen as the Rays representative for the All-Stars Among Us campaign recognizing people who serve their communities. Criswell established Home at Last, a program that gives U.S. soldiers injured in Iraq a fresh start with mortgage-free homes.

Different look: The Rays politely say the Sox are still dangerous but definitely not as much without 2B Dustin Pedroia, who is out at least a month with a broken foot.

"He's that grinder; he's that wheel-turner for them," Garza said. "They're going to have to find a guy who does what he does — the grittiness, the hustle, the hard play.

"There's very few guys who do that. The only one I can think of who plays as hard as he does might be Pete Rose."

Miscellany: Senior VP Gerry Hunsicker appears in line for a job with the Rangers once their sale is complete, according to the Houston Chronicle's Richard Justice. … Playing centerfield and hitting leadoff, Desmond Jennings is heating up at Triple-A Durham, going 7-for-15 in a four-game series vs. Lehigh Valley and hitting .351 in June. … Maddon said the biggest difference in the Rays showing in interleague play this year (7-11) was the improved quality of pitching by the NL teams.

Tampa Bay Rays looking to turn season around at Fenway 06/28/10 [Last modified: Monday, June 28, 2010 10:18pm]
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