Rays Begin Taming Fenway
This season might feel a bit different to the Red Sox faithful when the Rays come to town. Unlike in 2008 when the Boston Red Sox seemed to own the Tampa Bay Rays at home, 2009 might have a different feel to it. And the reason for that is that the Rays have finally conquered a common fear when young teams come to one of the oldest ballparks in baseball. They see beyond the cramped and elbow-to-elbow visitor’s clubhouse to the real reason it is heard to win here. They have overcome the fear of the aura of this ballpark.
I know that seems funny to say, but let me just show you the difference between 2008 and 2009, and it might make a bit more sense here. It all started in 2008 on May 2nd when the team made their first trek to Fenway. The Rays dropped all three of their games in the historic park by a combined score of 26-10 in favor of the home team. That is not a typo, the Rays surrendered 26 runs in 3-games. At that time the Red Sox still held the Rays at bay based on mystic and their ability to pile on the runs when things began to implode. In this first series, the Rays best offensive output was 4 runs in the Saturday game, but they lost that contest 12-4.
Then in early June they again came a-courting to Fenway and again left with three losses after surrendering 19 runs to their own 6 runs in the series. In that series only the opening game, which was a 7-4 loss had any closeness at all to it. The other two games the Rays only scored a solo run in both contests. The Boston mystic had a firm grip on the young Rays. But a strange thing happened while the Rays were holding that top spot in the American League East. Their confidence and offensive power came to the forefront. They began to win games they used to lose by unsuspecting plays and offensive outbursts. But could they shake the Fenway curse?
The first judgement on if they could tackle the curse came on September 8, 2008. In that contest the Rays were fighting to keep their top spot, and the Red Sox were within striking range of ruining the Rays party. The first game of the series saw James Shields again not able to crack the curse when they dropped the game 3-0 to the Red Sox But with Scott Kazmir taking the mound in the Wednesday contest, the Rays stood a chance. For years Kazmir had been the best weapon against the Red Sox at home for the Rays, but in 2008, they had lost the previous 7 home games in Fenway Park against Boston.
But on that faithful night, after beating Boston 5-4 in a 14 inning contest, the curse was set aside and the Rays finally could celebrate a win beneath the Green Monster. It was again the Red Sox killer Kazmir who might have pitched his heart out, but a Ray making his first at bat of the season set the tone for the victory. Dan Johnson, who was just called up to the Rays was late to the ballpark after fighting traffic to the game. It was his battle against Jonathan Papelbon that pushed the game into the Rays favor. With one swing Johnson deposited a Papelbon fastball into the Red Sox Bullpen and tied the game. That one swing set up one of the biggest emotional win on the road of the year for the Rays.
The next night, With Matt Garza on the mound, the Rays again left Fenway winners after a 4-2 win. For the first time in a long while, the Rays had taken a series in Fenway Park from the Boston Red Sox. Also in this series, the two teams each scored 9 runs. the gap in offense had begun to even out between these two powerful teams. For the first time in a long time, the Rays knew they could win under the Green Monster with some consistency. We all know what happened the rest of the season for the Rays.
The Red Sox faithful had to settle for a Wild Card berth, but they still had faith. Then in the American League Championship Series, after the Rays topped the Chicago White Sox, they again took aim on the Red Sox. After the first two games of the series, the teams came back to Fenway Park tied 1-1 in the best-of-7 series. The October 13th game is one that the Red Sox faithful want to forget about after the Rays stun the Red Sox 9-1 in a game that saw their leftie Jon Lester take an odd loss to the Rays. But that was not the worst of it yet. In the next contest, the Red Sox sent their sly slinger Daisuke Matsuzaka to the mound to try and salvage the series.
He did not fare better than Lester, failing to stifle the Rays offense and the Red Sox again saw defeat by a score of 13-4. After an off-day for each team to regain some power and confidence, the Red Sox did manage to take the fifth game at home 8-7 to force the Rays to end the series at their home to keep their playoff dreams alive. But the tide had shifted in this series. For the Rays, who did not begin the year with any type of confidence in Fenway Park, now seems to control the diamond. In the ALCS, they out-scored the home town Red Sox 29-13. The shift of confidence and swagger showed that the Rays now knew they could win in Boston.
The young team no longer tried to find ways to win, they knew they could win without gimmicks and tricks. Their pitching got better and better throughout the year against the Red Sox. Matt Garza in the playoffs became a second evil weapon against the Red Sox. From losing 7 straight games in Boston, to winning 4 out of 6 contests, the Rays finally could say they might have a Boston answer. So we begin 2009 a day later, but still with total dedication and ability to again take it to the Red Sox. Unfortunately we did not see a victory in Opening Day against the Red Sox, but there were moments that hinted of a confidence lingering about winning in this hallowed grounds.
The 5-3 loss might have been their first loss in Boston in 2009, but it a
lso was a game that they fought back in, and almost got enough to shake the rafters in Beantown. For the Rays were matched against a superior pitcher that day and almost still pulled the rabbit out of the hat. The 5-3 loss was still a loss, but the way the young team scrapped and fought to get their 3 runs showed they had no fear anymore in Fenway. So then we pan to last night game, which saw the Rays killer Jon Lester on the mound against the Rays. The game was in Lester’s hands until the third inning when the Rays finally broke through with two straight hits to put a man in scoring position at third with no outs. It is funny, the Rays scored their run after Evan Longoria hit into a double play.
The Red Sox knew that getting the double play on the young hot shot Rays was more important that one measly run. They were the Red Sox, they would get that one back. And they did in the bottom of the third inning. And the game teeter-toddered until the Rays came up in the top of the fifth inning. In that inning the Rays finally got to Lester and plated 4 runs to get their margin of victory against the Red Sox. So, does this mean that this series is finally going into the book as a “must win” for the Red Sox. For years they could count on at least 2 out of 3 against their southern rivals. they knew that a game in Fenway Park held a 10th member of their team on the field, the stigma of Fenway.
But with this now being tossed by the wayside by the young and confident Rays, is the time ripe for each team to finally admit that every game in Fenway will be decided on the field from now on, and not in their minds. Fenway is a beautiful ballpark with history in every crack and seat bolt. But now the Rays no longer seemed to be bothered by the history and the famous address. They now know that their abilities in the field and at the plate might be enough to win in Boston. It has been a long time coming, but since September 2008, the Rays are 5-3 in Fenway, and for the first time in the Rays history, they know each game can be won.
Photo credits: 1) Associated Press / Elise Amendola
2) Associated Press / Elsie Amendola