How the series between Boston (2-7) and Tampa BAy (1-8) proceeds will have much to do with Monday's starting pitchers, as Daisuke Matsuzaka will take the mound for the Red Sox trying to follow up on Josh Beckett's Sunday night gem in a 4-0 win against the Yankees, and rookie Jeremy Hellickson will make his second start of the season for the Rays.
Front and center in the teams' first meeting of the season, though, will be who's playing left field for the Red Sox, and who's not for the Rays.
After signing a seven-year, $142 million deal with Boston this past offseason, Carl Crawford will face his old Rays mates in a regular-season game for the first time.
"Yeah, I think it's going to be a little weird playing in Boston with C.C. playing in left field instead of [for] us," the Rays' Ben Zobrist said. "It will definitely be weird."
Crawford has struggled in the early-going, batting just .132.
"He had kind of been a slow starter here, too," Zobrist said. "But he always hits."
Hellickson's first outing at Fenway Park last season didn't go too well, as the 24-year-old right-hander allowed three runs in 1 2/3 innings of relief. He's hoping his first career start at the historic ballpark will go much better.
"Really looking forward to it," Hellickson said of getting the start at Fenway. "I didn't pitch too well there last year, so I'm looking forward to getting back out there. ... It's a park you really want to go to growing up. I was in the bullpen [when he pitched at Fenway last year]. I enjoyed being in there. Once I got in there, I didn't do too well, so I want to get back out there."
In his first outing of this season -- a loss to the Angels -- Hellickson said he tried to get too pretty with his offspeed pitches. He said his game plan for Monday is to rely more on his heater.
"I obviously need to throw my fastball more," Hellickson said. "I fell in love with my curveball a little bit too much last game. I just need to come out and establish my fastball a little bit more."
Opposing Hellickson will be Matsuzaka, who is looking to rebound from a tough 2011 debut against the Indians in which he allowed three runs while throwing 96 pitches in five innings. In 12 career starts against the Rays, the right-hander is 206 with a 5.09 ERA.
Rays: Damon ready for return
Johnny Damon, who played with the Red Sox from 2002-05, knows exactly how he'll be greeted on Monday by Red Sox Nation.
"Oh, I get booed," Damon said. "They absolutely despise me. I just have to say, 'You're welcome for '04. You're welcome for making it fun over there again.'"
Damon left Boston following the 2005 season to play for the rival Yankees.
Hellickson will look to rebound from his debut.
"I was comfortable last start," Hellickson said. "I made a few mistakes early and I settled down, but I was comfortable."
One positive from the start was his 10 strikeouts.
"It's obviously a good thing -- my stuff was working -- but I'd rather go out there and get guys to ground out early in the count and stay out there longer in the game instead of not getting through six," Hellickson said. "I think it was a good sign my stuff was working, but I'd like to stay out there longer."
Red Sox: Crawford, Gonzalez learning Fenway
Entering Monday, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford were three games into calling Fenway Park their home ballpark, and they continue to work to become familiar with it. Crawford, the Red Sox's left fielder, has been working on playing balls off the Green Monster and has received advice from Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski.
"I just have to stick with it," Crawford said after Friday's home opener. "I know there are going to be a lot of tricks and turns out there, but you've just got to try to stick with the ball at all times."
Gonzalez, who was struck in the left hand by a CC Sabathia pitch in Sunday night's 4-0 Boston win but remained in the game, seems to need to concentrate only on hitting. After all, everyone expects the sweet-swinging lefty to thrive at his new home.
"Everyone sees the same thing," said general manager Theo Epstein. "It's not like a special projection. Everyone in baseball, when they think of Adrian Gonzalez and Fenway Park, they think it's a real good fit."
After 10 straight losing seasons at Fenway Park, the Rays went 6-3 at the old ballpark last season. They also won the overall season series against Boston, 11-7. ... Throughout the past two seasons, the Rays have stolen 58 bases (out of 66 attempts) against the Red Sox.