Few secrets between Rays, Red Sox
With some players switching sides, Fenway reunion on tap
BOSTON -- Johnny Damon was looking forward to it. Red Sox Nation, with disdain or not, had to have been as well.
Damon and Manny Ramirez were to make a homecoming on Monday night, both as members of the Rays. You can imagine it -- two of the most prominent members of the 2004 curse-breaking Red Sox, not only back at Fenway Park for the start of a three-game set, but back in the same lineup.
Abruptly, that scenario was lost on Friday, when Ramirez announced his retirement because of an "issue" relating to Major League Baseball's drug policy.
"Boston's always going to be a special place for me," Damon said. "What we were able to accomplish there was all great. I was really looking forward to going back there with Manny, but things happen in this game, and you have to make adjustments.
"You're going back there with a new team -- a team I really wanted to be with. ... Hopefully, we can go and beat them."
For a mid-April meeting, neither the Rays nor Red Sox could be more in need of wins. Their combined records entering the start of Monday's three-game series: 3-15. Boston is 2-7, Tampa Bay 1-8.
No, the Rays didn't have the world-beating expectations that the Red Sox did entering the season. But for two teams in not only the same league, but the same division to lose each of their first six games? That's a rarity.
Since 1990, only five times have two teams in the same league started off 0-6. The last time it happened was also the only other time two clubs in the same division were involved -- the Cardinals and Cubs both began with six in the loss column in 1997.
"To say that we weren't going to win our first six games, both teams, percentages would be against that," said Boston reliever Dan Wheeler, who spent more than three seasons with Tampa Bay.
For Wheeler, who signed a one-year, $3 million deal with the Red Sox this past offseason, playing against a former club will still be strange, even though it's something he's done before. Boston is Wheeler's fourth Major League team.
But Carl Crawford, Boston's prized free-agent acquisition, doesn't think it will be peculiar. That's counter-intuitive, considering Crawford spent each of his nine previous Major League seasons with Tampa Bay.
"I already had the chance to get that feeling out of the way in spring," said Crawford, whom the Sox netted with a seven-year, $142 million deal. "Now, it's going to be more of just trying to play the game and the win game. It was a little different, weirder in Spring Training. I'll say, 'What's up?' to the guys, stuff like that, and get back to playing baseball."
Crawford's ex-teammates feel a little differently. B.J. Upton was 19 when he came up with the Rays in 2004, two years after Crawford debuted, and the center fielder played with Crawford every year afterward -- until this one.
"It's going to be strange going to Fenway and seeing him in left field -- in that uniform," Upton said. "I think he's in a good place, and I think he's happy with his decision. I think a lot of us in here are still adjusting to it, but I think we've moved past it."
Rays veterans James Shields and Ben Zobrist echoed that sentiment.
Old friends aside, what both teams need is timely hitting. Entering Sunday, the Red Sox were tied for the second-lowest average with runners in scoring position in the American League at .197. The Rays were last at .148.
Before Josh Beckett's eight shutout innings in Sunday's 4-0 Red Sox win over the Yankees, Boston's pitching could only get better as well. The team's 7.09 ERA entering Sunday was the worst of all 30 teams. Home runs -- 19 of them -- are largely to blame.
Red Sox-Rays may not create the same spark that Red Sox-Yankees does, but that doesn't mean it can't be as intense.
"I've never been on this side against the Yankees [before], but I know when I was a Ray, we'd come to play the Red Sox and try to take your game to the next level," Wheeler said. "I don't see that stopping."