Martin Fennelly Columns
Rays, Sox Reunite, Although Real Rockin' Begins In April
PORT CHARLOTTE - You guys know each other, right? They do now. The Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox play today, provided traffic lets up and the Boston team bus gets through. What's that? Oh, sorry, our fault: The American League champion Rays play the Red Sox today.Is Papi coming? Remember David Ortiz, who after the Sox won Game 1 of last year's AL Championship Series said he looked into the playoff newcomers' eyes and saw some uncertainty? He can see a pennant flag hanging in left-center if he looks hard today. The Red Sox probably won't wheel out many frontliners, the guys who lost in seven games to the Rays. Even if both teams got a wild hair and showed up full strength, there would be a few incendiary faces missing from last season. No weasel Coco Crisp. And no Jonny Gomes, who is now doing hard time with the Cincinnati Reds. This will still rock when they finally get around to starting the regular season April 6 because seven championship series games will leave you wanting blood, if not bad blood. Red Sox Nation took a major hit in 2008 - from the Rays, of all teams. Did people just wade into the harbor up there and end it after that? OK, it's not The Curse - but give it a few seasons. David Price is a lot taller than Bucky Dent, isn't he? As a bonus, the Rays and Sox start the regular season at Fenway Park, which the Rays took part for two ALCS games before Boston, remarkably, came back from 7-0 down in the seventh inning of Game 5 to win. Boston won Game 6 at the Trop, and the Rays were dead men in Game 7 because Jon Lester was pitching and the Sox were going to another World ... The Rays beat Lester - again. And major-league ingenue newcomer Price came in from the bullpen in Game 7 at Tropicana Field to smoke the Sox. Akinori Iwamura stepped on second and the Rays and Sox were joined at the hip, just like the Yankees and Red Sox, at least for this season. We're guessing it could be more seasons than that. We're not alone. "I think during the season we need to recognize that they are somebody. You always do ... it's not just a cliche, you got to pay attention to who you're playing," says Sox manager Terry Francona. "But I think if we think, oh, they had a magical year and they're not going to be around, we're all crazy. They're not old, they're not going to forget how to play. They certainly makes our life a lot more difficult in the American League East." You heard the man. He doesn't want to hear about this magical year stuff. Francona and a lot of Sox look at the Rays, that youth, that starting pitching, that defense - and the improvements they made - and figure that this thing will be on all over again. Actually, a lot of the Red Sox were onto the Rays as last season progressed. "Those guys are for real, and don't let anyone tell you different," Boston third baseman Mike Lowell said after the Rays swept Boston in April. The Rays lost seven games in a row heading into the All-Star break. At the All-Star Game, Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who'd go on to be named AL MVP, shook his head. "They're not going away," Pedroia said. "Look how they're put together. They're not going away." There's no reason, on paper at least, why the Rays and Red Sox can't go around and around again. Yes, the Yankees' economic stimulus package will need to be reckoned with, unless, of course, A-Rod's cousin, the steroids mule, starts picking him up at the park again. The Rays and Sox? They don't need no stinkin' cousins. It took millions of years, two big cities, Babe Ruth, the Clipper and the Splinter, Bucky Dent, Aaron Boone, Curt Schilling's bloody sock, Pedro and Zim and a whole lot of "Red Sox Suck" and "Yankees Suck" to make Yankees-Red Sox into, well, Yankees-Red Sox. But there's definitely something here, even if it isn't in full flower this afternoon. The real season lies ahead, and the real, real season after that. The rules have changed in Red Sox-Rays. Seven games in October will do that. Forget that magical year stuff. The Red Sox aren't fooled. These Rays aren't going away. Wouldn't it be grand?