HOUSTON -- You don't have to tell Red Sox shortstop Julio Lugo how big this upcoming American League East showdown is for his former team, the Tampa Bay Rays.

When the Red Sox arrive at Tropicana Field for Monday night's festivities, they will be a half-game behind the Rays in the division.

This will be the first time the Red Sox have played a series in St. Pete this late in the season while looking up at the Rays in the standings.

"This is the biggest series so far for them," said Lugo, who played for the floundering Tampa Bay squads of 2003-06. "It's early in the season. It's the biggest series for the franchise right now. They're playing good. They have a good team. We've got to go out there and do our best."

The Red Sox certainly need to do better then they did during their last visit to the Trop, April 25-27, when they were swept in three games.

To be back in first by the end of the series, the Red Sox will have to do what neither team has done in head-to-head competition this year -- win a game on the road.

The Red Sox have swept both Fenway sets from the Rays, accounting for their 6-3 record against them.

"They've played good baseball for three months," said Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell. "They're tough. It's a big series for us. We want to play well, but I don't think it's a be-all, end-all."

There was a lot of hostility between the last two times these teams met. Rays right-hander James Shields, who starts on Monday, hit Coco Crisp on the leg on June 5. Crisp responded by charging the mound, and a benches-clearing fracas ensued. In fact, Crisp won't play in this series because he is serving the rest of his five-game suspension stemming from that incident.

Will that past tension carry over?

"It's over," said Lugo. "We're just going to go there and play ball."

Pitching matchup
BOS: RHP Justin Masterson (4-1, 3.43 ERA)
Masterson earned his second career win against Tampa Bay on June 3, a 7-4 decision at Fenway Park. It wasn't his most dominant performance, as he allowed four runs on six hits during six innings of work, but it did set the tone for the three-game set, which the Red Sox swept to regain first place in the AL East. Masterson's last start was very similar to that game against the Rays; he allowed four runs on seven hits against Arizona on Tuesday.

TB: RHP James Shields (5-5, 3.76 ERA)
Shields is coming off a resounding victory over the Marlins on Wednesday night in which he broke a seven-game dry spell to notch the win. He tossed seven innings of four-hit ball, allowing only a solo home run to Mike Jacobs in the sixth inning. He will face a new rival in the Red Sox, as he was one of five Rays suspended after the on-field melee at Fenway on June 5. Monday's game will be the 27-year-old's fourth appearance against the Red Sox this year. He has beaten Boston once this season, on April 27 at Tropicana Field, and sports an impressive 1.99 ERA in home starts.

Short hops
Dustin Pedroia is on fire, going 12-for-16 in his last four games. ... Manny Ramirez snapped a 51-at-bat homerless drought on Sunday. ... The Red Sox are 19-24 on the road.

Tickets
 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• NESN

On radio
• WRKO 680, SBN 1150 (Español)

Up next
• Tuesday: Red Sox (Tim Wakefield, 5-5, 3.88) at Rays (Matt Garza, 6-4, 3.76), 7:10 p.m. ET
• Wednesday: Red Sox (Daisuke Matsuzaka, 9-1, 3.21) at Rays (Scott Kazmir, 7-3, 2.28), 7:10 p.m. ET
• Thursday: Red Sox (Jon Lester, 6-3, 3.48) at Yankees (Andy Pettitte, 9-5, 3.98), 7:05 p.m. ET