ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays have the best record in baseball since June 11. They have won a season-high seven straight games and have won 16 of their past 19 road games.
Now comes the hard part: winning at Tropicana Field.
The Rays are 22-28 at home.
“We’ve been a good road team, but that’s impressive what we’ve done recently,” manager Joe Maddon said. “We got to match it up at home. That’s where we made our hay in the past.”
The Rays play their next nine games at the Trop, beginning Friday when they open a three-game series with the Red Sox.
Plenty of tickets are available for the three-game series — projections show sales for all three games to be well shy of 25,000, according to the team.
“We’re not used to being this far behind in the standings, but I think the hope is that we go back home and see a few more fans in the stands and start to use that momentum and gain some of that homefield advantage back,” 3B Evan Longoria said. “This team is fun to watch right now, so we know the fans watch and support us on TV, and hopefully that’s enough of an incentive to come out and see us at the ballpark.”
The Red Sox begin the series last in the AL East, two games behind the Rays. Yet Longoria said if the Rays believe they are playoff contenders, so too must the Red Sox, especially when it comes to the division title.
“Everybody is within striking distance and there’s plenty of time left,” Longoria said.
The Rays began the season 11-22 on the road, before turning it around when they won two out of three at Houston in mid-June. They followed that with a 9-2 road trip through Baltimore, New York and Detroit, and followed that by winning all five games on the recent road trip to Minnesota and St. Louis.
Now they have nine games at home against the Red Sox, the NL Central-leading Brewers and the AL wild card-leading Angels.
“That actually bodes well in some perverse way, because we normally play well at home,” Maddon said. “So it’s about time we start playing well at home, too.”
David vs. Big Papi
LHP David Price faces the Red Sox tonight for the first time since May 30 when he drilled Red Sox DH David Ortiz. It was a move seen as retaliation for Ortiz standing at home plate and watching the second of the two home runs he hit off Price in Game 2 of last year’s ALDS sail into the Fenway Park seats.
Ortiz, who left Thursday’s game in Toronto in the ninth inning with back spasms, ripped Price in the media after the game, saying, “It is a war. It’s on. Next time I see him he better put his gloves on.”
Price said Wednesday he put the incident behind him and doesn’t anticipate any issues tonight.
“I said it right after the game. I was done,” Price said. “I want to get outs. Still got to pitch him in. That’s part of the game.”
PLAY time Saturday
The Rays athletic training staff will host PLAY — Promoting a Lifetime of Activity for Youth — at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Trop.
PLAY is an interactive fitness seminar for children 7 to 17 and their parents. The event is free. Call (727) 825-3306 to register.
“It’s a chance for our youth of all ages to realize the importance of being physically active not only for today, but for their future, so that hopefully we can all enjoy life, retire someday and have time to spend our money on more enjoyable things than doctor and hospital bills,” Rays head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield said.
The Majestic Athletic Clubhouse will open before tonight’s game at the Trop. It will carry jerseys, jackets, T-shirts, caps and other men’s women’s and youth apparel. ... C Jose Molina has a nine-game hitting streak. ... RHP Brad Boxberger has not allowed a run in his past 11 appearances. He is holding left-handers to an .085 batting average.