The Boston Red Sox demonstrated why they are the team to beat in the AL East, turning a 1.5 game lead by the Rays into their own lead in the division with a three game sweep of the Devil* Rays.
The Rays were out-pitched, outhit and out-fielded by the Red Sox, though the Red Sox demonstrated some bush-league behavior in the process. A brawl in the third game resulted from the following sequence of events:
As Boston outfielder Coco Crisp tried to steal second during Wednesday's game, shortstop Jason Bartlett substantially blocked the base from Crisp as he knelt near the bag. Crisp took offense and admits resolving to even the score against Bartlett. When I see the replay of that incident, I don't see Bartlett doing much. Perhaps its one of those subtleties one notices by playing the game. It would surprise me that a player would unerringly be able to cover second without occasionally blocking the base as Bartlett did.
Crisp reached based later in that game and tried to steal second again. Second baseman Akinori Iwamura covered the bag, and Crisp deliberately took him out with a hard and high slide. The Rays were not willing to let that cheap shot by Crisp stand.
In Thursday's game, Rays pitcher James Shields plunked Crisp in the leg in the traditional retaliatory manner with a pitch toward the hip. Crisp charged the mound.
It has been my understanding (and that expressed by the Rays' game announcers) that one charges the mound when the pitcher is trying to hurt him--that is, with a high pitch toward the head. For that reason, many writers expressed surprise that Crisp charged Shields. As such, I think Crisp is reasonably judged as bush league, though if Bartlett carries more blame in touching off the incident than I have thus far perceived I will later revise my assessment. On top of that, Boston's third base coach went after Shields. That's just ridiculous.
I like seeing the Rays stand up for each other, but with a couple of caveats. Jonny Gomes: Don't go trying to pummel guys while they're pinned. James Shields: Consider picking your moment a bit better. When you get ejected early in a game, the other team gains an advantage through your absence and it has appeared that the Red Sox have tried to use chippy play in the past to alter the lineups to their advantage.
Is it more important to show that you won't take cheap shots than to get manipulated into losing one of your best pitchers early in a game? As with the supposed blocking of second base, I'm not expert enough to say.
Dirty or not, the Red Sox are the best team in the division at this stage. May the Rays supplant the Bean-towners at that spot as rapidly as possible.
The YouTube of the Boston area video feed also reflects surprise that Crisp went after Shields following a leg shot.