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Rays, Shields shut out Crawford, Red Sox

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Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 05:07 PM

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ST. PETERSBURG -

Forget the long road trip and everything that happened over the course of those 13 days, good or bad. Forget the record at home this season, which has been very un-Trop-like.

The Red Sox were in town, and the sight of those Boston jerseys has a way of getting the Tampa Bay Rays' attention.

So what if the Red Sox were the hottest team in baseball, and big deal if Boston Carl Crawford was starting to look like Tampa Bay Carl Crawford.

None of that mattered Tuesday.

What did matter was James Shields was as good as he's ever been, and Justin Ruggiano, the Rays' third left fielder this season, is playing like an All-Star.

That combination was good enough to produce a 4-0 victory in front of 20,972 at Tropicana Field.

Shields tossed his fourth complete-game and major league-leading third shutout, and Ruggiano drove in the first run of the game in the fifth inning with a solo home run down the left-field line off Tim Wakefield that sailed over Crawford's head and just made it into the seats.

"To have a team as hot as the Red Sox are coming in to our yard when we're not very hot at home, to be able to start off the homestand like that gives us a boost," Shields said.

The Rays stopped Boston's nine-game winning streak, the longest in the majors this season.

The Rays also moved to within 31/2 games of the first-place Red Sox.

"I know those guys over there step it up when the Red Sox come into town," Crawford said. "I expected (Shields) to pitch one of his best games, and he did."

Shields' big game started with Crawford's first inning at-bat. He walked David Ortiz to load the bases for Crawford, who had hit safely in 10 of his previous 11 games.

Shields got Crawford to hit a ground ball to Casey Kotchman, then outraced his former teammate to the bag to end the inning.

Shields didn't give the Red Sox much after that, and it seemed whenever the Red Sox did get a runner on base, Shields would get the double-play ground ball he needed to end the inning.

"It's all about the starting pitching," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He was in complete control of that game."

Wakefield's knuckleball was keeping the Rays off-balance, but Ruggiano got just enough of one for his third home run of the season. With the way Shields was pitching, Ruggiano's home run seemed to swing the momentum over to the Rays.

"I think so," Ruggiano said. "It's really all he needed. He was unbelievable."

Crawford, who was received well by Rays fans during his first at-bat (the cheers outweighed the boos) was 0-for-3. He struck out in the seventh inning during his last at-bat after battling Shields for 12 pitches.

When asked to pick the more crucial at-bat against Crawford — bases loaded in the first inning or the strikeout in the seventh — Shields went with the strikeout.

"I think the 12-pitch at-bat was huge," he said. "He's one of the best hitters in the game and I've played with him for five years. I think I threw the kitchen sink at him. I think I threw every single pitch I had in my arsenal at him and he kept fouling everything off, but I ended up getting him at the end."

And on that 12th pitch?

"I was just thinking, either hit it or do something with it. I'm trying to save pitches here," Shields said.

With the left-handed hitting Adrian Gonzalez on deck and a runner on first, Maddon was ready to go to J.P. Howell in the eighth inning had Shields not gotten Dustin Pedroia swinging for the final out.

After RBI singles by Kotchman and John Jaso gave the Rays a 4-0 lead, the ninth belonged to Shields, who told Maddon in spring training he wanted the opportunity to finish more games.

"I told him, ‘Who knows who the closer will be, but I'll be more than happy to throw nine if you need me to,''' Shields said.

He obliged by retiring the Red Sox in order to give the Rays a win in the first game of this crucial three-game series.

"I think this was a big game for us," Shields said. "I knew going into the series that this was going to be a big series, especially with how we've been struggling at home and how hot this team has been. I wanted to go out there and try to go as deep as I can and try and get this team a win to start off this homestand, and I end up going nine."

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