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Thursday, Apr 26, 2018
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Fennelly: Rays blaze a trail to Beantown, ALDS

CLEVELAND — Ah, Beantown.

The Green Monster against The Little Team — and starting pitching — that could.

It was that way in 2008. And it's that way again.

Hey, Boston, here come the Rays.

If I'm the Red Sox, I don't want any part of this team. It looks like it's gathering steam.

“I wouldn't want to play us right now,” Rays reliever Joel Peralta said.

Wednesday night, for the third time in four days, in the third different city and second different country, Joe Maddon's tour group played a knockout game and refused to knuckle under.

Wednesday, it was Cleveland, and a 4-0 win against the Indians in the AL wild-card game.

Two champagne parties in three nights — that has to be a record.

No, it wasn't easy.

Hey, they're the Rays.

Easy isn't in their playbook.

Going home isn't, either.

At least not until Saturday night, after Game 2 of the AL Division Series. They'll be coming back to the Trop after all. It's Matt Moore against Jon Lester in Game 1 on Friday at Fenway. Then it's David Price versus John Lackey on Saturday. Sounds like a throwdown to me.

Yeah, the Rays went 7-12 against the Sox this season, 4-6 up there.

Throw that out the window. It's Boston bats against Rays arms.

“We feel very confident about our pitchers pitching against anybody,” Maddon said.

Then again, Rays bats hit .207 against the Red Sox arms.

Forget that. There's a fighting chance, seeing how the Rays fought Wednesday.

There was dogged winning pitcher Alex Cobb. It was Cobb who got up off the canvas after a liner dropped him during the season, and he refused to go down Wednesday. It wasn't the prettiest 6™ scoreless you'll see, like that matters today.

There was a “Remember Me?” from Delmon Young, who 10 years ago was a bonus baby Ray, the No. 1 pick overall in the draft. Then D. Young went away.

Wednesday, he was back, and he hit a rocket into the left-field bleachers to lead off the third inning and break a scoreless tie.

“We have 163, we have the wild card, now we have Game 1 on Friday,” Young said.

There was that extra-large two-run double down the left-field line by Desmond Jennings to make it 3-0, taking the edge off a disappointing season for the center fielder.

And there was infield defense, as superb as it has been all season — Ben Zobrist saving a run with a diving stop in the fourth, the James Loney-to-Yunel Escobar-to-Cobb double play, 3-6-1, to escape bases loaded, one out.

And there was Peralta, who still had the gas to strike out Nick Swisher with two on and two outs in the seventh. Jake McGee fanned the only man he faced in the eighth. Then came Rodney Hood. The Rays bullpen hasn't been what it was last season, but it was Wednesday.

No, nothing was easy.

“Easy is no fun,” Peralta said with a smile. “Hard is fun.”

The Rays took the long way to Boston. Face it, fans: It's never easy when it's the Rays. Remember when they blew the 7-0 lead in Boston in Game 5 of the 2008 ALCS? Remember when they fell behind 7-0 to the Yankees in 162 in 2011?

They lost the first two games in Toronto last weekend, then they had to hold off the Blue Jays on Sunday after grabbing a 7-0 lead.

Hey, they're the Rays.

“It's who we are,” Rays GM Andrew Friedman said before Wednesday's game. “It's what we do. Hopefully, when we look back on this season, it's going to make it that much sweeter.”

They had to win Sunday in Toronto. They did. They had to win Monday in Texas. They did.

“We've already played this wild-card game a couple of times,” Maddon said before the game.

Now it's the Red Sox.

“Still on the road,” Loney said. “We'll have to wash some clothes, I think, some socks.”

Try the Red Sox on for size.

The Rays aren't afraid. They'll play those other Sox anywhere: Boston Common, Bunker Hill, Harvard Yard, Back Bay, Front Bay, eBay. Or pick a country, any country. The Rays will meet them there.

“We're just on the ride right now,” Loney said.

The week is half over and they've already blazed a trail.

That's who they are, too.

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