What is it about the Tampa Bay Rays that bring out the worst in the Red Sox?
Ah, yes, those scrappy, last-place Rays are back in town this weekend for the first time since Ben Zobrist essentially told Red Sox fans where to stick their precious Dustin Pedroia bobbleheads earlier this month. Since we last met – all of a week ago, when the Rays delivered the TKO to Boston’s 10-game losing streak – the Red Sox have ticked off four consecutive wins against the Atlanta Braves, and crawled out of the AL East basement, where the Rays remain like a familiar tenant of yore. In turn, the Rays turned their mini-winning streak into a three-game losing streak against Toronto. Manager Joe Maddon did a cute Skype chat with Sandwich High School students. There were smiles.
This weekend, he’s back in Boston, where he left the last time victorious in a sweep of a doubleheader that the Rays argued vociferously against. Conspiracy theorists suggested the Red Sox refused to reschedule the rainout later in the season because the team had tens of thousands of bobbleheads to give away, and just where are you going to store those? The criticism got to the point where Red Sox CEO Sam Kennedy had to actually say that the Red Sox did not refuse to reschedule the rainout later in the season because it had tens of thousands of bobbleheads to give away.
The Rays and Red Sox do not like each other. This has seemingly always been true since Tampa Bay’s introduction to the league almost 20 years ago. For years the rivalry was about the Devil Rays’ ineptitude, an annual young team never on the rise that reacted out of equal parts frustration and immaturity. When it came to playing the big, bad Red Sox, Tampa players always seemed to understand that Boston was a team it could easily tweak on the field, leading to some of the more memorable baseball dustups in recent memory.
Last Sunday was not one of them.
Was it, as they say, a bonding moment? Hell, I don’t know, but the Red Sox have gone on and won four straight since embarrassing themselves in the Yunel Escobar incident. With a five-run lead on Sunday, the Rays shortstop took third base on defensive indifference, infuriating some members of the Red Sox dugout. Benches cleared, Yo Mama jokes were told, and everybody then went their separate ways.
”There were some words exchanged,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. ”We’re down five in the seventh, so it’s somewhat a gray area when you shut down the running game.’’
What a flat-out unseemly thing for Farrell to say.
The hypocrisy of it all, of course, is that the Red Sox whined about the Rays running with a five-run lead during a game bookended by contests in which Boston both blew a five-run lead and came back from a five-run deficit. It’s almost as if the baseball gods felt the need to show them how incredibly stupid they looked as a group on Sunday.
It seems that no Rays-Red Sox series goes without any extracurricular drama, whether it be Pedro Martinez vs. Gerald Williams, Coco Crisp vs. James Shield, or Escobar vs. 12 Fraudulent Men. For years, they were mostly treated as one-sided battles, the punk Rays vs. the missionary Red Sox, but in recent years it seems that Boston can’t get enough of trying to disgrace itself against Tampa. Hell, even the front office thought it a good idea to pry Carl Crawford away from the Rays, a $142 million opportunity to thumb their noses at the panhandle. That was fun.
“As far as we’re concerned, it’s over with,” Maddon told the Tampa Tribune when asked if last week’s heated conversation might carry over into this weekend’s series. “It’s time to play baseball. Let’s not worry about all this goofy little trivial (stuff) that means nothing.”
Maybe. But there will be something else to take focus off the field, which, considering the way these two teams have played this season, may not be such a bad ordeal. There is always something with these two teams. When the Red Sox see the Rays on the schedule, say goodbye to Bill Bixby.
After last weekend’s sweep, the Rays are 5-1 against the Red Sox this season, and can try to leapfrog them again this weekend in the standings, where the last-place Rays are only 1 1/2 games behind Boston, which gained a game on Toronto (seven games back) after Thursday’s walk-off win against the Braves. The Sox are going with Brandon Workman against David Price on Friday, Rubby De La Rosa (2-3, 3.04 ERA at Triple-A Pawtucket) vs. Jake Odorizzi, and Jon Lester vs. Alex Cobb on Sunday. Sprinkle in some time for hijinks.
“To me it’s over, total non-issue now,” said Jonny Gomes, so incensed by Escobar last weekend that he ran in from the outfield to deliver the rules of the baseball code. “Given the state of our team, we have to worry about winning games. I think Escobar went out of his way to start something, but that’s over with now.”
We forgot about it. But…
Yes indeed, the Rays are back, which means the Red Sox will be at sanctimony level Defcon 1 over the next few days, with Maddon and Farrell both insisting to show the other how the game is supposed to be played.