Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays series primer

The last time the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox tangled, a beanball controversy in Beantown became the talk of baseball. Prickly words were exchanged between David Price and David Ortiz after Price plunked Big Papi on May 30 at Fenway Park in the first game of a three-game series.

Rays first baseman James Loney has hit .450 (9 for 20) with three RBI in five games from July 18-23.  

Kim Klement / USA TODAY Sports

They meet again.

The last time the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox tangled, a beanball controversy in Beantown became the talk of baseball. Prickly words were exchanged between David Price and David Ortiz after Price plunked Big Papi on May 30 at Fenway Park in the first game of a three-game series. The act maybe or maybe wasn't retaliation for Ortiz's whimsical trot around the bases following a home run off Price in the American League Division Series last October.

Whatever. Price's deed was done. Both players have moved on, but the moment's legacy remains.

This kind of stuff makes baseball fun. Of course, no one wants to see anyone injured or worse, but healthy tension between division rivals gives reason to anticipate developments in a simmering feud.

A new opportunity to create memories has arrived.

Things are much different than the last time the Rays and Red Sox met in late May and early June. Back then, Tampa Bay was stumbling through a 0-8 road trip as part of a 1-14 slide from May 26-June 10. Back then, scoring two runs meant a strong offensive night for Joe Maddon's team. Back then, hope for the Rays' chances of making the postseason measured somewhere between "slim" and "none."

Now, the Rays are baseball's hottest team. They've won seven consecutive games. Clinching the AL's second wild-card spot, thanks to the bumbling Seattle Mariners, doesn't seem like a distant dream anymore.

Still, the Rays must manage their emotions to continue their hot ways against the desperate Red Sox. Boston has sunk to the bottom of the AL East at 47-55, two games behind Tampa Bay. The Red Sox, like the Rays, showed a stronger pulse until they lost three of four games to the Toronto Blue Jays from Monday to Thursday.

Someone will walk from Tropicana Field on Sunday evening feeling better about life, someone worse. Each game holds greater meaning with September urgency alive in late July.

This is always fun.

Here's a closer look at the upcoming Rays-Red Sox series...

SCHEDULE AND PROBABLE PITCHERS

July 25 (Sun Sports -- pregame coverage begins at 6:30 p.m.)
Jon Lester (10-7, 2.50 ERA) vs. David Price (10-7, 3.06 ERA)

July 26 (Sun Sports -- pregame coverage begins at 6:30 p.m.)
John Lackey (11-6, 3.66 ERA) vs. Jeremy Hellickson (0-0, 2.08 ERA)

July 27 (Sun Sports -- pregame coverage begins at 1:00 p.m.)
Jake Peavy (1-9, 4.72 ERA) vs. Chris Archer (6-5, 3.31 ERA)

WHO'S HOT

Mike Napoli (Red Sox): He hit .391 (9 for 23) with two home runs and two RBI in six games from July 18-24. He had a hit in seven consecutive games from July 12-23. He has hit .276 with 12 home runs and 36 RBI this season.

James Loney (Rays): He hit .450 (9 for 20) with three RBI in five games from July 18-23. He had four consecutive multi-hit games in the span from July 18-22, including a 3 for 4 day in a victory over the Minnesota Twins on July 18. He has hit .284 with five home runs and 47 RBI this season.

WHO'S NOT

Dustin Pedroia (Red Sox): He hit .083 (2 for 24) with two strikeouts in six games from July 18-24. He was held hitless in four consecutive games from July 19-22. He has hit .269 with four home runs and 37 RBI this season.

Ben Zobrist (Rays): He hit .105 (2 for 19) with two strikeouts in five games from July 18-23. He was held hitless in three consecutive games from July 20-23. He has hit .257 with seven home runs and 27 RBI this season.

STORYLINES

33: Distance, in miles, between Busch Stadium in St. Louis and Jake Odorizzi's hometown of Highland, Illinois. The right-hander allowed two runs and five hits in 5 2/3 innings in the Rays' 7-2 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday.

13-4: Rays' record in July, their most recent victory a 3-0 win over the Cardinals on Wednesday at Busch Stadium. They have won 25 of their past 36 games.

11: Number of teams the Rays have passed since owning the majors' worst record on June 29. They were perfect in a five-game road trip to begin the post-All-Star break schedule.

QUOTE BOARD

"He was a little amped early. But then he started making some great pitches." -- Maddon, when describing Odorizzi's performance in the Rays' victory Tuesday. The Cardinals jumped to a 1-0 in the bottom of the first inning, but Odorizzi calmed down to produce a strong 106-pitch performance.

"Honestly, my initial thought was I had broken my elbow. I'd never been hit by a 94 mile an hour (pitch) before. Once I got on first base, it wasn't hurting. It was like getting hit on your funny bone." -- Right-hander Alex Cobb, after a fastball from right-hander Lance Lynn struck him in the right elbow in the fourth inning of the Rays' victory Wednesday. Cobb fell to the ground but remained in the game.

"He just said hello and a 'nice-to-meet-you' sort of thing. We talked pitching a little bit, talked shop." -- Odorizzi, after speaking with Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright near the batting cage on Wednesday. Odorizzi grew up rooting for St. Louis, and many of his family and friends attended Tuesday's game.

PROMOTIONS AND GIVEAWAYS

July 25 -- District K-9 Seating

July 25 --€“ Tampa Bay Times Ticket Tandem – Don Zimmer Snowglobe

July 26 -- Rays Tote Bag

July 27 -- Chris Archer Christmas Stocking

July 27 -- Imagination Movers Christmas in July Postgame Concert

LOOKING AHEAD

July 28-30 -- Brewers at Rays

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.