Forget the Yankees and those perennially sold-out contests of rivalrous fortitude. For all the intensity of those meetings, what are the odds that the participants actually throw down? Once a year, maybe if we’re lucky? (Chris House excluded.)
The Devil Rays (who arrive at Fenway tonight for the start of a three-game set), on the other hand, we’re talking a better chance of witnessing animosity than if you locked Tim Dickinson and Neil Cavuto in a 4-by-8 cell.
These midweek Devil Rays games have historically been the easier tickets to find in Boston, which is too bad because they’ve become leave-the-kids-at-home sort of nights. I went to a baseball game and a boxing match broke out isn’t just a cliché any time the Rays and Sox face off, it’s a refrain.
Fresh off Julian Tavarez’s spring training loco breakdown on the Devil Rays’ Joey Gathright, the 495th scuffle between these two franchises over the past eight years, Major League Baseball spokesperson Patrick Courtney told the St. Petersburg Times that a “heads up” had been sent to the umpires calling this week’s series at Fenway. No pregame warnings will be given to the teams.
"The umpires are just given a summary of the recent problems between the two clubs so they are aware of potential bad blood, Courtney wrote in an e-mail to the Times.
From Pedro Martinez (200-win Pedro Martinez, by the way) to Gerald Williams to Brian Daubach to Greg Vaughn to Trot Nixon to Dewon Brazelton to Derek Lowe to Ryan Rupe to Frank Castillo to Lance Carter to Bronson Arroyo to Lou Piniella to Curt Schilling, it has been a contentious history between these two clubs. But unlike the Sox’ long-standing rivalry with the Yankees, this is a one-sided affair once the third out is recorded in the final frame. The Red Sox, more often than not, win these petty affairs, perhaps simmering the boiling attitudes in the clubhouse across the way all the more.
If there isn’t an outstanding reason yet why Doug Waechter and Adam Stern don’t see eye to eye, there soon will be. The Devil Rays and Red Sox won’t soon be cavorting around town in the after hours in a “My Dinner With Enrique” way any night soon. Call it a “rivalry” if you so desire, but the only thing the Devil Dogs rival is irrelevance. Conflict, yes. Rivalry? Please.
Tampa though does come into this series on a hot streak, coming off a three-game sweep of the ... oh, Royals. Never mind. If it’s possible, Kansas City appears poised to finish 2006 worse than it finished 2005, kicking off the season in style with a 2-10 mark. David Glass keeps screaming poverty while Minnesota, Oakland, and Cleveland snicker behind his back.
Meanwhile, in another land of ineptitude far to the south, things are starting to change in Tampa-St. Pete, where they appear to be making one last-ditch effort before handing out Las Vegas and Portland real estate guides in the clubhouse as required reading. Vince Naimoli and Chuck LaMar’s version of a Farrelly Brothers movie is over, replaced by new owner Stuart Sternberg and 28-year-old Andre Friedman, the new executive VP of baseball operations. Piniella finally gave in for his own sanity, leaving for Fox, where his sensibilities will be tested even further by sharing the booth from time-to-time with Tim (Or, Timmy in Lou-speak) McCarver. In comes Joe Maddon to try and right the ship again with an exuberance that should dissipate by the time we all ignore Flag Day.
It’s all a fine start for the franchise, but let’s not expect miracles overnight. The Devil Rays field a young, potentially talented team with young guns Scott Kazmir (almost guaranteed to flummox Boston batters tomorrow night; he’s 2-1 with a 2.79 ERA against the Sox in seven career starts) and Waechter. Carl Crawford is off to a slow start, but remains one of the more exciting young players in the game. But Aubrey Huff and Rocco Baldelli are on the disabled list, along with Julio Lugo, a troika of burgeoning stars the Rays can ill afford to lose for any extended period of time.
It’s not like they have lofty thoughts anyhow in Florida. A leap from last to fourth place would be considered monumental enough to hold a rally come October. Tampa has finished out of last in the American League East just once, in 2004, and it should be an entertaining summer battle with the Orioles for that distinction this season.
But Devil Rays “fever” has at least caught on finally. Why just last week, the Devil Rays opened their season at Tropicana Field, perhaps the worst stadium in all of baseball, in what MLB.com deemed “a new era.”
“Revamped stadium hosts the fourth sellout in team history,” reads the subhead.
That’s four. As in one, two, three ... four. Devil Rays Nation has spoken.
When the final inning is played Thursday night, likely with Jonathan Papelbon closing out a 10-game homestand with a pump of the fist in front of a frenzied crowd, a revamped Fenway will have hosted the fourth sellout this week. Unlike their true rivals 200 miles down 95, there is nothing familiar about these guys, these young underachievers who seem to want to prove a point other than that they’re a collective joke. There is no rivalry, and yet animosity exists every time they get together.
In just two weeks, those Yankees come to Boston. That’ll be fun. But let’s face it, these Devil Rays dates are getting to be almost as entertaining.