ST. PETERSBURG (AP) — The way the Tampa Bay Rays see it, hitting Boston left-hander Jon Lester is difficult enough without having to also contend with an expanded strike zone.
Lester and three relievers combined on a one-hitter Tuesday night, shutting down baseball’s top team in a 2-0 win that saw Rays star Carl Crawford and manager Joe Maddon ejected for arguing a called strike in the fifth inning.
“It was just a wide strike zone all night long,” said Maddon, who watched the final four innings on television after being tossed by plate umpire Bob Davidson when he stood up for an angry Crawford.
The argument ensued after Lester’s first-pitch curve broke across the plate and appeared to wind up several inches on the other side. Crawford objected, stepping out of the batter’s box to confront Davidson.
“He was just like, `That’s a good pitch.’ I’m thinking to myself, if the plate is in the other batter’s box, then it’s a good pitch,” Crawford said. “It went back and forth. He didn’t want to back down, and I definitely wasn’t going to lose a trash-talking contest.”
Maddon came out of the dugout when the words got heated. Crawford was ejected as the manager stepped between the player and umpire. When Maddon continued the argument, Davidson tossed him, too.
Replays appeared to show both Crawford and Madden made contact with Davidson, however both felt it may have been initiated by the umpire.
“It was close. He was definitely rubbing me also. It’s hard to distinguish who exactly encountered or created the first rub,” Maddon said adding that he didn’t feel he or Crawford should be facing a suspension.
“If anybody should be getting suspended it should be the umpire. I don’t feel like I did anything wrong defending myself,” Crawford said. “He was the one who got all defensive real quick. Normally when they get defensive like that, it’s because they know they made a mistake.”
David Ortiz had a two-run double for the Red Sox.
Lester (5-2) remained unbeaten in his last seven starts, striking out nine and only allowing one baserunner past second before turning the game over to the bullpen.
Manny Delcarmen, Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon finished the combined one-hitter with three scoreless innings.
“You hold them to what we did,” Boston manager Terry Francona said, “you did a pretty good job as a staff.”
The victory was the seventh in eight games for the Red Sox, who have rebounded from a poor April to climb a season-best five games over .500 (26-21). Papelbon allowed a one-out walk in the ninth, but retired Carlos Pena and B.J. Upton to earn his 11th save in 12 opportunities.
The Rays, who have baseball’s best record at 32-14, lost a series at home for the first time since dropping two of three to the New York Yankees the opening week of the season. Willy Aybar had their lone hit, a fourth-inning single.
Ortiz, who homered during Monday night’s 6-1 win over Tampa Bay, gave Lester all the support he needed with his third-inning double off James Shields (5-2), who limited the Red Sox to four hits over eight innings — none after the third.
The Tampa Bay starter walked two and struck out five.
Lester improved to 3-0 in five career starts at Tropicana Field. He’s 5-0 over his last seven starts this season and has not lost since the Rays beat him 7-1 during their four-game sweep of the Red Sox in Boston last month.
“We’re just playing better baseball. It’s what we kept saying from the beginning. We weren’t playing good baseball. We were not playing smart baseball,” Lester said.
“Our starters weren’t going deep in the game and now we’re getting on a little bit of a roll. We kept saying we’d get on a roll, we’d start playing better baseball,” the left-hander added. “This is a good team and I don’t think people really believed it, but we are a good team and we’re going to keep grinding it out.”
Shields worked out of a bases-loaded, two-out jam in the first inning, then kept Tampa Bay in the game after falling behind 2-0 on Ortiz’s double into the gap in left-center field by retiring the last 16 batters he faced.
Despite managing just one hit off Lester, the Rays had plenty opportunities against the left-hander, who walked five, including Jason Bartlett three times. They stranded runners in five of the first six innings, going 0 for 4 with men in scoring position.
“Obviously we’re not hitting the ball as well as we can right now. We have to get better in certain spots,” Maddon said, adding that Shields deserved a better fate after limiting Boston to four hits.
“But I’m really not in any way discouraged,” the manager said. “I just really hate wasting that good of a pitching performance.”
NOTES: The ejections were the first of the season for Crawford and Maddon. … The Red Sox activated OF Mike Cameron (lower abdominal strain) from the 15-day DL. OF Jacoby Ellsbury, who last weekend ended a stay on the DL for a rib injury, sat out after experiencing soreness in his left side.