Results tagged ‘ Rays vs Red Sox ’

The Most Hated Man in Boston Tonight

 

 
Steve Nesius/AP

I guarantee when the Tampa Bay Rays head to Boston for their last series of the year against the Red Sox from September 6th through the 8th, there will be one member of the Rays who better have a map handy of the city of Boston when the Rays charter flight arrives at Logan Airport. Because after tonight, Rays Designated Hitter Dan Johnson’s picture will probably be blown up and memorized inch by inch in the minds of every single cab or limo service employee in the greater bean town area.

Johnson had better let someone else hail the cab or rent the limo, because if they see Johnson’s mug, you might just end up seeing the tail lights of that same vehicle as it pulls away leaving Johnson, and whoever else is with him in the cold. Johnson will probably take it in great stride knowing an entire city is right now loathing his existence and wanting a re-do on the pitch that cost the Red Sox a chance to humiliate the Rays. Instead it was the collection of red clad Boston fans who get to leave Tropicana Field tonight as it gives off it’s amber glow.

Some of the Red Sox Nation might have forgiven Johnson for his first instance of displeasing the multitudes that follow the Red Sox way back on September 9, 2008 when Johnson instantly took the breath out of almost every Boston fans both within Fenway Park, or watching on NESN with a blast up and over the Red Sox Bullpen for a game tying Home Run in the 9th inning off the Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon. That single moment of Rays clarity in 2008 has also been embraced by a large collection of Rays fans as the biggest Home Run in Rays history…Bar none. And it was done by a guy who fought traffic to get to Fenway Park for the game that night, and was not there in time to start in leftfield.

 
Michael West/ Boston.com

You know more than a few of the Red Sox Nation’s historical fan base were a bit freaked last night when Johnson again got to oppose Papelbon in the bottom of the ninth inning as Johnson dug in at the plate for hi second appearance EVER against Papelbon, Johnson stood at the plate last night with great patience and was rewarded with a walk on 6 pitches to give the Rays a sense of impending hope in the game last night. But it was not meant to be last night for Johnson as Reid Brignac came on to pinch run for Johnson and he was left to watch from the dugout. Last night Johnson could not extract any carnage upon the Red Sox, but tonight was another story. But it did add a sense of revisiting that moment as Johnson stood in the batter’s box tonight.


Johnson’s latest injustice towards Red Sox Nation did not come against the Boston closer, this time it was reliever Scott Atchison who got the unpleasant task of having to turn and watch the ball disappear within the right field stands as the collective 36,973 ( 102% capacity) in attendance either danced or just shook their head in dismay. In that instance, you only had to look at someone’s face to know what team they rooted for tonight. Rays fans were high-fiv’ing and jumping like school kids, while Boston’s local faithful fan only looked for the exits. Johnson had again torn a bit of their Red Sox reality to shreds and this time it will not go down lightly.

 
Steve Nesius/AP

Johnson is a player who despite a .149 batting average has also posted an unheard of .367 On-Base Percentage because of his patient nature at the plate. To rub it in a little more, Johnson as either walked or hit his way on base for the Rays in 14 of his 16 games with the team. You might say that Johnson did tonight what he has done all year long in the minor leagues where he won the Triple-A Home Run Derby, plus smacked out 30 Home Runs in 96 games before being called up on August 2,2010. Johnson was just doing what Johnson is paid to do….Hit the ball a long way.

The only better moment for tonight would have been if Papelbon had been toeing the rubber for this recent Rays/Red Sox venture. But Papelbon was not even warming up in the Red Sox Bullpen at that moment, he was seated on the wooden bench watching that same ball go deep into the stands and the celebration begin under the Trop’s roof. By ending the game in this fashion tonight, it was like a UFC cage fighter knocking you down, then twisting your neck until you passed out. It was a total reversal of fortunes in a matter of 8 pitches before the ball settled 384 feet beyond the Home Plate keystone.

So Johnson had better either have friends in Boston, or find some manageable entertainment options within the region of the Rays hotel during that last series in Boston. Maybe a great option would be to rent a car so that he can just come and go as he pleases without bringing up this second heartache again to the populous of Boston. But I will bet you anything if Johnson is standing at a street corner during that last road series in bean town and there is a puddle of water within range, some cabbie or truck driver will exact a little surgical play back to Johnson for again dashing the hopes of many in that city.

 
Steve Nesius/AP

But then again, maybe it is better that Johnson and the Rays visit Boston almost two years to the day that Johnson first became a curse word on every Red Sox fan on that night in 2008. Being infamous might not get you cabs or even a hearty hand wave, but it will remind you of why Johnson might be one of the most hated Rays in recent memory among followers of the Red Sox Nation, and I think Johnson is okay with that.

 
 
 

The Red Sox are Coming, The Red Sox are Coming!

 
 
Chris O’Meara/AP
You could just sense that something was coming. Your ears would begin to burn and vibrate with increasing velocity, and you could just feel the barometric pressure beginning to rise the minute the Red Sox plane landed. This was going to be the series where the Red Sox laid it all out on the Trop’s turf and by heck or high water would make their ultimate 2010 stand to reclaim a spot in the 2010 playoffs.

At first you were not sure if it their first attack was an ambush at you from the Northeast, or maybe a flanking move from their Spring home in the South (Fort Myers), but you knew that the Red Sox Nation’s spirits were going to be flying sky high the minute they opened the doors for this decisive 3-game series. And you know every swing and every pitch will have viewers in the seats in at home pulsing towards the television feeling every ebb and tide of this series this weekend.

With the Red Sox sitting just beyond the Rays grasp right now in their own divisional fight, it is imperative that they gain ground this weekend, or finally face the horrific truth that they will need allies to get back into either the American League East race, or get a helpful nudge into the American League Wild Card top spot. With word spreading like wildfire that Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who has been a thorn in the Rays side all year pretty much done for the year, another viable weapon is taken out of the Red Sox arsenal.

And with around 35 games to go before the end of this season, the Red Sox will have to start an incredible push of possibly going on a unheard of 20+ winning streak, combined with some timely Rays losses to again be in a visible position to fight another day after October 4th. So what are a few key situations to keep in mind during this weekend series?

Chris O’Meara/AP

Red Sox Starters versus Rays Offense.

Rays have hit the combined Red Sox pitching staff with some consistency this season. But hold only a .226 opponents batting average against Boston this season. The key elements will be how the Boston starters hold the top of the Rays line-up plus adjust their pitching throughout the game. B J Upton is the only Rays hitter to hit more than one Home Run against Red Sox pitching this season, but the Rays have been patient and posted 53 walks.

Evan Longoria is not having a tremendous year versus Boston pitching this season, but has been on a bit of an offensive tear lately, which could work into his favor. With Carlos Pena now back behind Longoria, teams will have to pitch to Longoria more “straight-up” than pound his wrists and outer zones with the ball. Carl Crawford is definitely someone the Red Sox will want to keep off the base paths, but he has gone 8-23 (.348) at Tropicana Field this season against Boston with 13 total bases.

But in Boston’s favor is their first strategic move of the series, even before they landed in Tampa Bay when they scratched Daisuke Matsuzaka who was experiencing “back stiffness” on Wednesday and instead penciled in Jon Lester to start Friday night’s game. Granted, if you want someone with more spine, I would go to Lester too. The move might seem a bit hasty to some, but Lester holds a seasonal .182 opponents batting average over the Rays head, and a .052 ( 1-19) mark hitting in his only start in the Trop this season.

With a more solid chance to take a win in the first game, the Red Sox have pitcher Clay Buhholz ready to go Saturday night and holds a .261 average against the Rays this season. Combine that with 8 Rays strikeouts in their 23 plate appearances and you get a pretty provocative one-two punch to begin this series. But the problem is that this is a three game series, and John Lackey has not performed all that well within the roof of Tropicana Field this season. Lackey might be the Wild Card entry in this weekends games as the Rays hit him for a .308 average with 4 walks in his only Trop. Appearance.

 
Chris O’Meara/AP

Rays runners against Red Sox catchers

With the Red Sox catching crew decimated by wild injuries right now with former Texas backstop Jarrod Saltalamacchia out with a leg infection and Jason Varitek not able to run effectively yet on his injured right foot they are down to Victor Martinez and ex-Ray Kevin Cash. The Rays have stolen 22 bases off the Red Sox in 2010, and have only been nailed once by a Red Sox catcher. With the Rays possibly amping up their usual small ball offense this weekend, being a catcher on this Boston team right now might be one of the most stressful spots outside of their Bullpen. But the Red Sox also can not forget Ben Zobrist (6 SB) or Carl Crawford (7 SB) at any moment this weekend.

Another unknown factor for the Red Sox to consider is that the Rays have garnered 53 walks off the Red Sox in prior games, and the Rays now have more patient hitters like Dan Johnson and Matt Joyce in the line-up to bolster the Rays chances of base runners. This segment of the weekend series might play out the biggest in the end. If the Red Sox can stagnate the Rays running game along with their small ball tendencies, it could be a huge blow to the Rays usual game plan.


 
Chris O’Meara/AP

Rays starters versus Boston Hitters

This is another area where the Red Sox might have a bit of the surprise factor as they started three outfielders in their game on Tuesday night who have limited at bats against the Rays this season. Former Rays prospect Darnell McDonald has appeared in only 5 contests between the two teams, but sports a .455 average in 3 games at Tropicana Field this season. Daniel Nava has played in four Rays vs. Red Sox games and is hitting for a .333 average with a triple. The third member of their unknown outfield from that night, Ryan Kalish has not faced the Rays this year.

But even with weapons like Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis sidelined until 2011, this Rays pitching staff will have to be cautious. The Red Sox still have their power options in their line-up with both Adrian Beltre and David Ortiz, who both have 2 Home Runs in the Trop this season healthy and ready to go Friday night. But the Rays are also sending their best weapon to the hill on Friday night to combat the Red Sox bats.

 

Rays Pitching will have to “Set the Tone”

American League Cy Young hopeful David Price, who has held the Red Sox to a .258 average in his only 2010 start against Boston on July 7th at home before the All-Star break. Working in Price’s favor is that in that lone start against Boston this season, he posted 10 strikeouts in the game. But Price has been more impressive since the All-Star break and this Lester versus Price match-up might be a pitcher’s duel until someone blinks.


Buchholz against Garza will have the same effect as the Lester vs. Price match-up in that two very selective pitcher will be wheeling and dealing until someone leaves a ball up and over the plate. And that was the case in Garza’s only start against Boston this season. He got rocked with 4 Home Runs in the outing and gave up 13 hits and 11 runs in the Red Sox’s 11-3 spanking of the Rays back on May 26th. But Garza has seemed more in control of his pitches in recent outings and better equipped for this pressure filled match-up.
Last, but not least will be James Shields coming in on the Nationally televised ESPN Sunday Night Baseball telecast against Lackey.

Shields has had his up and down moments recently, but he always seems to have a special 6th gear for Boston games. Shield has only faced the Red Sox three times in 2010, but held them to 4 hits and 2 runs and a .143 average in his only start against them at Tropicana Field on May 26th. Working in Shields favor is he is 2-1 against Boston this season and has held Boston to no Home Runs at home.


This series is going to be a bit of a :do or die” scenario for the Red Sox. They do not want to have to rely on any of the other American League East rivals to help their cause. This series might be all about the pride and the resolve of the Red Sox to show they can overcome and set the Rays down to get back into the Wild Card race.

If the Rays were to slip past Boston and sweep them in this home series, it could effectively put Boston near the double digit mark behind the Rays. This is going to be a great series, and one worth watching on ESPN on Sunday night.

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