The beasts of the East — the rivals whose blood feud extends to a previous century — face off for a three-game series in the heat of the summer with first place on the line. It’s another epic chapter in the bitter rivalry between the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays.
Hmm, something doesn’t seem quite right. Yet here we are tonight, the Sox and the Rays facing off with less than a game separating them. Two players will be absent because they’re serving suspensions incurred during the last time these teams played each other. And it’s not like these clubs have no history. We’ll never forget Pedro’s near no-hitter during a game in which the Rays lost a half-dozen or more personnel in an epic beanball war.
If the storyline of the Sox and Yanks until 2004 was akin to the fabled rivalry between hammer and nail, so too has that of the Sox and Rays — with the Sox finally playing the hammer. Even this season, the Rays have twice now entered Fenway Park for a series with the Sox in first place and left in second.
Of course, tonight’s game won’t be played in Fenway. It will be in Tropicana Field, where the Sox in April dropped three straight in maddening fashion, losing by a grand total of five runs. Overall, the Sox lead the season series so far, 6-3, and they’ve outscored Tampa 50-26. Yes, these are a different group of Rays than the Devils who scared no one except an opposing hitter or two when one of those wild fastballs sailed too close to the head. But they are still a group that has yet to show it can beat the Red Sox when the games matter most.
Tonight, the Sox look to regain first place the old-fashioned way — by wresting it directly from the team they’re playing. Justin Masterson, the phenom who has stepped up tremendously thus far, faces James Shields, who shut down the Sox back in that April series, but imploded in two meetings since.
Extra security is on hand in Tampa tonight (and, no, it doesn’t matter that it has nothing to do with the actual game being played. It’s all about atmosphere, dang it), and at YFSF headquarters, debate rages on whether to register a new domain: RFSF.org.
It’s almost time for the epic showdown to commence. Comment. Away.