The last time James Shields and the Tampa Bay Rays faced Boston, they were swept at Fenway Park -- but they still let the Red Sox know they weren't planning on going away.
At their season's halfway point, they've kept that vow.The Rays begin the second half of their schedule in first place in the AL East as they host the Red Sox on Monday, with the teams meeting for the first time since Shields was a primary figure in a brawl in Boston.The home team has won all nine games between the clubs this season, with the Red Sox taking the last six after getting swept in St. Petersburg in April. Even with the Rays on their way to a 7-1 defeat and a sweep at Fenway on June 5, however, they showed they wouldn't back down from the defending World Series champions.Tampa Bay felt Boston's Coco Crisp had attempted to injure second baseman Akinori Iwamura on a slide, and Shields responded by hitting Crisp in the hip with a fastball. That provoked a benches-clearing brawl that earned eight players suspensions.Crisp, who charged Shields and exchanged punches with him, is serving a five-game penalty and will miss this series."I protected my own players and that's what we need to do around here," Shields said that night. "We've been getting stomped around the last 10 years and it isn't going to happen anymore. I had to let them know early and let them know right away."By now, few are expecting the Rays to suddenly fade. Tampa Bay closed a 5-1 road trip with a 4-3 victory over Pittsburgh on Sunday, jumping past Boston (50-34) into first place for the first time since June 3 and finishing the first half of their season at 49-32.The Rays' previous club record for wins in the first 81 games was 40 in 2004. They also set a record for the best first half by a team that had the worst record in the majors the year before."I'm not going to sit here and say I expected us to be at this particular place in the standings," manager Joe Maddon said. "It's been an anonymous first half ... there's no one guy having a killer season, which makes it more appealing to me that we're at this juncture, knowing somebody's going to turn into a beast in the second half."That could be Shields (5-5, 3.76 ERA), who has shown flashes of brilliance at times this season. He allowed one run and four hits in seven innings of a 15-3 win over Florida on Wednesday, his first victory in eight starts.His outings against the Red Sox this year have been memorable for many reasons. In addition to the ejection, he pitched a two-hit shutout against them at Tropicana Field on April 27, then lasted just 3 2-3 innings in his next start in Boston, allowing seven hits and 10 runs in a 12-4 loss May 3.The shutout was his only career win versus the Red Sox, as he's 1-4 with a 5.66 ERA in seven starts.Shields will face a Boston club looking to avoid losing three in a row for the first time in more than a month. The Red Sox dropped their last two games of interleague play in Houston, with the bullpen faltering in the eighth inning each time.Manny Delcarmen allowed three runs in the eighth during an 11-10 loss Saturday, and David Aardsma was charged with the loss after the Astros broke a tie late in a 3-2 defeat Sunday.Justin Masterson (4-1, 3.43) will try to help prevent the Red Sox's first three-game skid since they were swept at Oakland from May 23-25.Masterson allowed four runs in six innings against Arizona on Tuesday, not getting the decision in Boston's 5-4 victory. He beat Tampa Bay with the same line as the Red Sox won 7-4 on June 3.