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Rays refuse to hit panic button

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / May 26, 2010

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — If the Rays are concerned with the surging Red Sox, it wasn’t evident in their clubhouse last night.

Manager Joe Maddon sat at his desk cracking jokes about getting ejected in the fifth inning of last night’s 2-0 loss to Boston. A note near his door reminded players to bring their passports on the next road trip and to wear their favorite hockey jersey on the flight.

“What have we won, seven of the last 10? We’re fine,’’ Maddon said.

The Rays have the best record in baseball and a healthy five-game lead in the American League East. That the Red Sox have won the first two games of the series is hardly a reason to get upset or wear a shirt and tie to the airport.

This is what the Rays expected from the Red Sox all along.

After Tampa Bay swept a four-game series at Fenway Park in mid April, Maddon predicted the Sox eventually would play to their expectations. A little more than a month later, he’s not surprised.

“I never doubted for a moment that they would get themselves going,’’ he said. “I do see [David] Ortiz swinging the bat better. I see [Adrian] Beltre getting back to his normal self both offensively and defensively. Those are the things that stand out to me the most, those guys.’’

For Carl Crawford it goes beyond that.

“They just seem to have a little more giddy-up about them, a little more fire to them. It seemed like they were down early in the season and now they’re playing with a little more fire,’’ he said.

“They have good players over there. It’s a talented team. They’re just playing better now. The way Ortiz is swinging the bat; he helps make everybody else better because that lineup gets a lot deeper. I figured they would be right there. They always are.’’

Once a punching bag for the Sox, the Rays have won 20 of the last 33 meetings between the teams and 15 of the last 21 played at Tropicana Field. Their best starter, righthander Matt Garza (5-2, 2.37 ERA) starts the series finale tonight. He held the Sox scoreless for eight innings April 18.

What bothers Maddon is the Rays have been held to one run on seven hits over the first two games of the series. His team wasted a good performance last night by James Shields, who allowed two runs over eight innings.

“We need to play better offensively against them, and the Yankees,’’ Maddon said. “Our pitching has been there.’’

The Rays were far more concerned with the strike zone of umpire Bob Davidson, who ejected Crawford and Maddon in the fifth. The usually placid Crawford objected to a Jon Lester pitch well off the outside corner that was called a strike.

“He said it was a good pitch. I was thinking to myself that is if the plate was in the other batter’s box, it was a good pitch,’’ Crawford said.

Crawford got nose-to-nose with Davidson and appeared to slightly bump him. The umpire ejected the left fielder first and then the manager seconds later.

“Carl, when he turns on an umpire there definitely has to be something going on,’’ Maddon said. “So when I went out there, I was just arguing in defense of our hitters. I knew why I was kicked out, then had a pretty good time when I was out there.’’

The Rays don’t think the encounter would merit any suspensions.

“There was definitely some intimacy about the whole argument but I don’t think there was any bumping,’’ Maddon said.

But Crawford probably will draw a fine for saying, “If anybody should be getting suspended it should be the umpire.’’

Crew chief Tim Tschida told a pool reporter that Davidson ordered Crawford to “back off’’ because he was getting too close.

“He actually moved closer. That’s why Carl was ejected from the game,’’ Tschida said.

Maddon was ejected for leaving the dugout to argue balls and strikes.

“It’s immediate,’’ Tschida said. “So, again, it wasn’t anything personal. It wasn’t anything insulting.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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