Rays-Red Sox Preview

The Boston Red Sox didn’t mind waiting a few days to start their

playoffs.

Not after missing them for the past three seasons.

Not after the September collapse that ruined their chances in

2011.

And certainly not after they stumbled to the club’s worst record

in 48 years in 2012.

”This was part of the mindset at the end of last year, a strong

desire to rewrite what took place,” Red Sox manager John Farrell

said Thursday.

The revised edition tied the St. Louis Cardinals for the best

record, was the highest scoring team in the majors and turned a

toxic clubhouse atmosphere into a fun-loving one that was a big

reason the Red Sox had 28 more wins than they did last season.

They’ll try for their first in the playoffs on Friday against

the Tampa Bay Rays in the opener of the best-of-five AL division

series.

”Guys in here love playing baseball,” Red Sox left fielder

Jonny Gomes said. ”It’s a bunch of baseball junkies, so I’m sure

they’ll be happy to strap on their cleats.”

Boston ended its regular season on Sunday then waited for its

opponent to be determined.

Tampa Bay had to win three road games to get this far – at

Toronto on Sunday to force a tiebreaker for the second AL wild-card

spot, at Texas on Monday night in that tiebreaker, and at Cleveland

on Wednesday night to advance to the ALDS.

”It’s quite an accomplishment,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said.

”And, moving forward, I want to believe it’s going to create some

kind of different form of momentum going into this series because

we’ve been playing. We’ve been playing under duress and we’re not

tired.”

But the Red Sox don’t think their layoff will hurt.

”It’s just a second All-Star break for us,” Gomes said after a

nearly two-hour team workout Thursday.

The Rays finished six games behind the Red Sox in the AL East

but are on a roll with 10 wins in their last 12 games. And they

have star left-handers Matt Moore and David Price ready to go in

the first two games at Fenway Park.

Moore (17-4) is 9-1 in his last 13 starts. Price (10-8) is

coming off a 5-2, complete-game win against the Rangers in the

tiebreaker. In a span of eight days in late July, they combined to

go 3-0 against the Red Sox in Boston with each pitching a complete

game.

More bad news for the Red Sox: the Rays are 14-2 on the road

when Moore starts.

”For me going into a game on the road, I try to take that as a

little bit more of a challenge than when you’re at home” with

support from the crowd, Moore said. ”There’s nothing better than

winning on the road in an environment like this.”

The Red Sox have a pretty good left-hander themselves set for

the opener. Jon Lester (15-8) was 5-1 with a 2.22 ERA in his last

eight starts and 7-2 with a 2.57 ERA since the All-Star break.

”To be named Game 1 starter, especially after last year,”

Lester said, ”big honor, obviously, very excited.”

Lester had his worst season in 2012 with a 9-14 record and 4.82

ERA. Even worse was the team’s 69-93 record and clubhouse discord

under Bobby Valentine, who was fired after his only season as

Boston’s manager. He took over from Terry Francona after Boston

went 7-20 the previous September.

”Last year was just horrendous all the way around,” Lester

said.

And this year?

No losing streak longer than three games. A total of 158 days in

first place. And a lineup with no easy outs.

”It’s nine guys in the lineup getting it done,” Gomes said,

but ”it’s a clean slate as of (Friday). So it’s zeroes across the

board.”

Farrell said the righty-hitting Gomes, a platoon player, would

start in left field in the first two games. He also said

first-string catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and backup David Ross

would split the first two games.

Third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who bats right-handed, could be

a key against Moore and Price.

”He’s shown the ability to be streaky, and when he’s in those

upticks it really lengthens our lineup,” Farrell said. ”I will

tell you that going up against left-handed starters, we’re going to

need him.”

Middlebrooks’ position is the only spot where the Rays have an

obvious edge. Tampa Bay third baseman Evan Longoria had three hits,

including his 32nd homer, in the tiebreaker in Texas.

”He comes in here swinging the bat very well,” Farrell said.

”And, seemingly, in those key moments he’s come up with some big

hits. So anytime we focus on one given player, it’s not so much

that particular guy, it’s what we do with the guys ahead of him in

the order. And if we can minimize the opportunities when he comes

to the plate, we might put ourselves in a decent position.”

Both teams know each other very well, having met 19 times this

season with the Red Sox winning 12.

But Maddon thinks the Rays surge just to reach the ALDS will

help them.

”I want to believe the journey we’ve just gone through is going

to hopefully relax our hitters a bit,” he said. ”So you might see

a better offensive ballclub.”