No team will ever be the Red Sox’s rival in the same way the New York Yankees are. That fact has been reinforced this year as both teams have had some memorable clashes, both in baseball terms and fisticuff terms, all while the two have taken turns being the best teams in baseball.
During the last 10 years, however, the Red Sox have had more of a rivalry with another AL East team. Beginning with their rise to prominence in 2008, the Tampa Bay Rays have seemingly always been there to poke, prod and sometimes even bully the Red Sox. From 2008 to 2017, the Red Sox and Rays played 185 games, with the Rays winning 93 of those and the Sox winning the other 92. The only team the Red Sox lost more to in that time was the Yankees. That doesn’t even include the postseason, which is where our story begins.
The 2008 Red Sox were coming off a World Series championship. Their top five players in bWAR were Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Josh Beckett. Alex Cora was a PLAYER for the Red Sox. David Ortiz only hit 23 home runs that season as people started wondering if he was finished. (Spoilers, he was not). That year’s team won 95 games but somehow finished second in the AL East. The team they fell behind was none other than the Tampa Bay Rays. The 2008 Rays were powered by Carlos Pena, who led the team in bWAR, as well as Evan Longoria, James Shields, Scott Kazmir, Carl Crawford and Matt Garza. They won 97 games, out-doing their Pythagorean projected by five games.
During the regular season, the Sox and Rays met up 18 times, with the Rays coming out on top in 10 of them. The most memorable moment of the regular season series wasn’t a home run or a diving catch, however. Instead it was a brawl in June that featured some rope-a-dope magic from Coco Crisp.
That fall, after defeating the Angels in the ALDS, the Red Sox faced the Rays in the ALCS. After winning game one behind seven shutout innings from Dice-K, the Sox then dropped three-straight to fall behind 3-1 in the series, before facing elimination square in the face when they trailed 7-0 in the seventh inning of game five. But the Red Sox scored eight runs during the next three frames, capped by a walkoff single from J.D. Drew. They would win game six 4-2 to set up a decisive game seven.
Dustin Pedroia set a great tone in that one, hitting a solo home run in the top of the first inning. However, the Red Sox offense disappeared from there, managing only two hits the rest of the way. Interestingly enough, David Price came in for the final 1 1⁄3 innings to earn the save. The Rays went on to lose the World Series to the Philadelphia Phillies, but 2008 was the launching pad for this rivalry.
Although they would not meet in the playoffs against until 2013, the Sox and Rays continued to duel, with the Rays often coming on top, especially in 2011 when they went 12-6 against Boston and made the playoffs thanks to an epic collapse from the Sox and a walkoff home run in the 12th game of the final game of the season by Longoria.
The Sox turned the tide in 2013 with a 3-1 win over the Rays in the ALDS and an eventual World Series title. They went 12-7 against Tampa Bay in 2013 and, including that campaign, have won the season series in three of the last five years. But that doesn’t mean there has been no drama along the way. Price infamously beefed with Ortiz before switching sides and even in seasons when the Red Sox are great and the Rays have been subpar, games against them never seem to be easy.
That last point was no more clear to during a series in early July last season. Entering July 6, the 45-42 Rays were somehow in striking distance of a postseason berth, sitting just a game behind the New York Yankees and 4.5 back from Boston in the AL East. After splitting the first two games of a four-game set, the Sox lost 1-0 to the Rays in game three. Alex Cobb spun an absolute gem to lift the Rays, allowing only two hits in 7 2⁄3 innings of shutout ball. It was an incredibly frustrating game since Rick Porcello was actually great on the other side (8 innings, 1 run, 7 strikeouts) and the fact that the Sox put the bat on the ball a lot, striking out only three times. The Rays finished off the series with a 5-3 win on July 9, but then lost six of the last eight games of the season series as the Sox won the AL East for a second-straight year.
In 2018, these teams are on divergent paths once again. Following yesterday’s win, the Sox have won 8 of 11 games in the season series and are 33-15 and World Series contenders while the Rays are hovering around .500 and starting career reliever Sergio Romo every fifth day. That doesn’t mean that winning against Tampa will be easy, even if it should be. That just not how rivals deal with each other.
While the Rays are tinkering with their starting rotation, the Red Sox don’t need to, at least when Chris Sale is on the mound. (Nick Cafardo; Boston Globe)
J.D. Martinez has smacked 15 home runs this season and is among the league leaders in batting average. While there are some reasons to believe he will regress, it probably won’t be by all that much. (Charlie Clarke; BP Boston)
Can Jackie Bradley Jr. reverse his offensive difficulties? (Jen McCaffrey; The Athletic) $$)
It’s looking more and more likely that Dustin Pedroia will be back on Friday. (Michael Silverman; Boston Herald)
Tyler Thornburg is nearing his return as well. (Christopher Smith; MassLive)
Drew Pomeranz isn’t injured but he still needs to improve. (Peter Abraham; Boston Globe)
Andrew Benintendi is hitting home runs again. (Matthew Kory; The Athletic) ($$)
Kevin Youkilis may not be an MLB Hall of Famer, but he is a Red Sox Hall of Famer. (Adam London; NESN)