The Boston Red Sox take on the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series tonight.
All season we’ve been suffering from an acute case of Rays fever around here. Kevin, of course, was a Floridian for a brief spell and knows his way around the Trop. I’ve gotten so caught up in the Cinderellas from the Sunshine state that I may or may not own an authentic Tampa Bay baseball cap.
Our adopted team is pitted against the newest Evil Empire, the Boston Red Sox. The AL East rivals (yes, we live in a world where the most heated divisional rivalry this year may have been Boston-Tampa Bay) have thrown punches, done their fair share of scoreboard-watching and strutted their stuff on the catwalk, yeah, the catwalk down the stretch.
As White Sox fans can tell you, these plucky rays of sunshine aren’t your slightly older brother’s Devil Rays. Third baseman Evan Longoria blasted home runs in each of his first two postseason at-bats against Javier Vazquez and may have outslugged Sox second baseman Alexei Ramirez for the AL Rookie of the Year. Relief pitcher Grant Balfour is also adept at giving directions, especially to a certain White Sox middle-infielder.
But the guy we like the most is manager Joe Maddon. He may look like Michael Douglas in
“Falling Down,” but his disposition couldn’t be any different. He’s the steady hand at the tiller that keeps the young Rays playing above expectations.
Sure, his math theory may be a bit extreme, but it’s hard not to like a guy who wears No. 70 and plasters motivational posters all over the field of play.
But Boston is still Boston. My colleague recently pined to have the same sort of success that’s permeated the avenues surrounding Yawkey Way nest a little closer to the Friendly Confines. They’ve become baseball’s biggest and best dynasty, winning with both high-priced free agents and by cultivating a deep farm system. The Dustin Pedroias and Jon Lesters mix in rather nicely with the Big Papis and J.D. Drews.
The smart money would be on the Red Sox pulling this series out. Hey, if Curt Schilling says it, it must be true.
But something tells me that this season isn’t sticking to the same tired script. I mean, the Tampa Bay Rays are hosting the American League Championship Series. Before this season they’d never won more than 70 games in a year.
It’s understandable if you’re all baseball-ed out, Chicago. Or if you’re cursing the baseball gods. We get it. It’s been a rough week.
But there’s plenty of room left on the Rays’ bandwagon should you wish to join.
Sports Pros(e) predicts: Tampa Bay 4-2