Rays ready for Wakefield, Red Sox
Tampa Bay (45-72) at Boston (70-47), Monday, 7:05 p.m. ET
No hitter in baseball will say he relishes the chance to face a knuckleball specialist. Their befuddling breed, throwing that tantalizingly slow pitch that wanders lazily into the hitting zone before suddenly dropping from sight, has the ability to screw up even the hottest hitter's swing for days."Definitely," Rays center fielder B.J. Upton said. "There's not much you can do about it. You just gotta go up and swing against him." And it's not as if Boston knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, whom the Rays must face Monday at Fenway Park, needs any more of an edge against Tampa Bay. He has more wins (17) against the Rays than over any other opponent. An astonishing 10.37 percent of Wakefield's 164 career victories have come at the Rays' expense. He is 17-2 with a 2.96 ERA in 34 career games (24 starts) against Tampa Bay, including 2-0 with a 3.65 ERA in two meetings this season. Factor in the fact the Rays had to play a night game Sunday in Texas and weren't likely to reach their Boston hotel room beds until close to 6 a.m., and it would seem safe to presume Monday night's meeting with Wakefield would be as unappealing as it gets for Tampa Bay hitters. But you would be mistaken. "If we're going to be that tired, you'd rather face Wakefield, where the fastest pitch you're going to see will be 77 [mph]," Jonny Gomes said. "Even if it is a whiffle ball. Besides, batting practice doesn't help anything against Wakefield." Because of their early morning arrival, the Rays will forego a standard batting practice Monday. Manager Joe Maddon said players likely won't be required to be in uniform until about 5:30 p.m., 95 minutes before the scheduled 7:05 p.m. start. Under such bleary-eyed conditions, a perplexing soft-tosser such as Wakefield is preferable to someone busting 95 mph fastballs off their hands. "Absolutely," Upton said. "Get [Wakefield] out of the way. Given the amount of sleep we're going to get, and then run into him? It doesn't get any better than that." Does Maddon concur? "Well, we'll have to wait and find out," he said. "When is the appropriate moment to face a knuckleballer? ... I just don't know." Pitching matchup
TB: RHP James Shields (9-7, 4.32 ERA)
Shields gave up one run in seven innings, walked none and struck out nine in beating Detroit on Wednesday. The 7-1 victory was Shields' first win in five starts. He is 0-1 with a 5.87 ERA in three career appearances against Boston and will be making his Fenway Park debut. Shields should be better rested than his teammates, as he was sent ahead to Boston on a 5 p.m. flight Sunday. BOS: RHP Tim Wakefield (13-10, 4.81 ERA)
The knuckleball specialist is coming off a 10-4 loss to the Angels in which he gave up seven runs -- six earned -- in four innings. It was Wakefield's shortest outing since he lasted just 3 2/3 innings against the Yankees on June 1 at Fenway Park. Until the outing against the Angels, Wakefield was cruising, going 6-1 with a 4.63 ERA in his previous seven starts. Player to watch
Rays left fielder Carl Crawford is 22-for-67 (.328) with four doubles, one triple and two home runs in his career against Wakefield.
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Tuesday: Devil Rays (Scott Kazmir, 9-7, 3.58) at Red Sox (Jon Lester, 1-0, 6.43), 7:05 p.m. ET
Wednesday: Devil Rays (Andy Sonnanstine, 1-8, 6.35) at Red Sox (Daisuke Matsuzaka, 13-8, 3.59), 1:05 p.m. ET
Ken Daley is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.