ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) – The Tampa Bay Rays offer no apologies for being modern-day marauders.

Carl Crawford & Co. are ripping and running, leading a revival of the stolen base and showing no signs of slowing down. The rest of a once-plodding American League is trying to keep pace.

“We like to put pressure on the other team,” Crawford said. “We don’t like to wait around for the big home run, even though we can do that.”

With major league leader and four-time AL steals champions Crawford, B.J. Upton and Jason Bartlett showing the way, the speedy Rays are well on their way to swiping more bases than any other team for the second straight year.

Their 91 steals entering Monday were 26 more than the nearest challenger, as well as the most in the AL after 58 games since Rickey Henderson and the 1982 Oakland Athletics had 100, and tops in the majors at the same point in a season since the 1991 Montreal Expos had 94.

What’s surprising, though, is the AL as a whole is on pace to outsteal the National League for the first time since 2001. That’s only happened three other times in the last 20 years (1989, 1992 and 1998).

The Rays are most responsible for the trend.

“They know we’re going to run,” Upton said. “You can’t say there’s no stopping it, but the bottom line is we’re going to run any time we get a chance.”

Manager Joe Maddon turned his young, hungry team loose during Tampa Bay’s improbable run to the World Series a year ago. The AL champions are creating even more havoc on the basepaths with a stolen base success rate of just over 84 percent this year.

Crawford, who tied the modern major league single-game record with six against Boston on May 3, entered Monday night’s game against the New York Yankees with more steals (34) than 15 teams.

The closest team to the Rays in the NL was the New York Mets with 56.

Upton and Bartlett, hitting .373 before being injured, also are in the top 10 in steals.

Still, Tampa Bay is not a team that thrives on speed alone. Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria are among the league leaders in homers and RBIs, and the team’s ability to force mistakes with aggressive baserunning has helped both sluggers.

With Upton, Crawford and the Rays’ other basestealing threats constantly on the move, Longoria is seeing fewer breaking balls and feasting on fastballs at the plate. Opposing teams also are reluctant to pitch around the 2008 AL rookie of the year because of Pena’s potent bat.

“Sometimes you can get pitchers more worried about us on the basepaths than worried about the hitter. When you can do that, they have the tendency to maybe leave the ball over the plate a little bit more,” Upton said.

The 27-year-old Crawford has the best stolen base percentage in AL history, including 34-for-37 (91.9 percent) this year, and his 83.6 percent career success rate ranks third all-time behind Tim Raines and Eric Davis.

He’s on pace to swipe a career-best 95. That would be the most in the majors since Vince Coleman stole 109 for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1987. Only two AL players – Ichiro Suzuki (56 steals in 2001) and Chone Figgins (62 in 205) have led the majors since Henderson won the last of his 12 AL stolen bases titles in 1998.

Crawford scoffs at the notion that he could wind up stealing 100.

Even though Maddon encourages the Rays to be aggressive, with the manager noting “there’s only a few red lights,” Crawford feels the quest take a toll on his legs, particularly with Tampa Bay playing more than half its games on artificial turf.

“The body takes such a banging, I probably wouldn’t be able to walk come September. I don’t ever say what a person can’t do, but I definitely think 100 is a little out of reach,” he said.

“You’re going to have to say I’m going to steal 100, and you’re going to have to take off every time you get on base. That’s not counting the times you get thrown out. It’s a lot of running you’re talking about.”

Upton, second in the AL with 44 stolen bases in 2008, is off to a slow start after beginning the season on the disabled list following shoulder surgery. He’s also adjusting to a new role as a leadoff hitter.

Maddon believes once Upton hits his stride, the real fun will begin.

“He and Carl in tandem can really be devastating. You can see how they change the way the pitchers go about their business once they get on base,” Maddon said. “When they’re both on at the same time, it’s a really bad feeling for the other side.”

The Rays, who have an AL-high 12 players with at least one steal this season, led the majors with 142 last year, one more than the Colorado Rockies. They swiped a record 24 in 16 postseason games, with Crawford going 7-for-7 and Upton 6-for-6.

“A big part of what I want us to continue to do is pick the right moments. I don’t want to just run for the sake of running and get thrown out,” Maddon said. “I want us to be aggressive and run when the situation indicates we have a pretty good chance of being successful.”

AP-ES-06-08-09 1518EDT

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