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Boston Red Sox prove they're still a threat to light-hitting Tampa Bay Rays

ST. PETERSBURG — The first lesson is this: You don't kill Godzilla in May.

The second lesson is this: If you are going to try to kill Godzilla in May, you need to hit it a little harder than this.

So it went Monday night, one small reminder after another brought to you by the Not-Yet-Dead Sox. To sum it up: This is still the American League East, and those are still the Red Sox, and there is still three-quarters of a season to be played. Any questions?

Also, if it isn't expecting too much, wouldn't it be nice if the Rays would smudge up those shiny bats of theirs?

Look, there is no need for alarm. When a team has gotten off to the kind of start the Rays have, it's easy to dismiss a 6-1 loss to Boston as just a tough day at the factory. It can happen. A team gets a bad outing from its starting pitcher, which almost never happens, and it strands a few runners in scoring position, which happens only rarely, and the next thing you know, the Red Sox have drawn one step closer in the distance. If you wish to think of Monday night as something short of a big deal, the standings will allow it.

As nights go, however, this was the kind that can make you fret about other nights to come.

For one thing, the Red Sox are starting to play like a team that is capable of making things interesting again in the AL East. This was their sixth win in seven games, and suddenly they are getting the kind of pitching everyone thought they would. Papi looks big again, and the team is getting healthy, and it's easy to notice that half of the AL teams with winning records are in the East.

"Am I surprised?" Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "No, no. I was hoping they would take a little bit longer (to turn it around). Papi (David Ortiz) is getting it going again, and (Jacoby) Ellsbury's back, and (Daisuke) Matsuzaka is pitching much better. They have all these different weapons. They're just a really good ballclub. They got off to a bad start. They'll be back to full strength pretty soon. They'll be different."

Should this surprise anyone? As much as people wanted to think of this as a step-on-their-necks sort of series, the Red Sox are too talented to simply fade away. This is the kind of team you judge by its resume, not by its record. The Red Sox have enough depth in their rotation, in their bullpen, and in their owners' wallets to make a serious run.

Also, there is this:

Frankly, the Rays are hitting diddly.

Now, considering the team is off to one of the finest starts of the past half-century, it seems like nitpicking to point out the subterranean batting averages. But maybe the most impressive thing about this start is the Rays appear to be attempting to hit with umbrella shafts.

On nights such as Monday, when Wade Davis seemed to lose the GPS on his fastball, when Maddon went to his bullpen 11 outs into the game and seemed slow in getting there, it's easier to notice the Rays' hitting deficiencies.

Do you remember the Rays' slow start last season? Ha. By comparison, last year's Rays hitters were Murderer's Row. Carlos Peña was hitting a lusty .245 then; this year, he's down to .191. Dioner Navarro was cruising along at a .211 clip. This year, he's down to .188. B.J. Upton, at least, has improved from .196 this time last year to a zesty .215.

And so on. Jason Bartlett has lost 130 points off his average from last year at this point. Willy Aybar has lost 39 points off of his.

"We're playing good offense," Maddon said. "We're working good at-bats. We're getting on base. We're running the bases well for the most part. We've been very good in situations. I think it's more that I've been focused on the way we're playing offense as opposed to a couple of guys struggling. We've been scoring runs. That's what I stress. I don't stress batting average."

So why have the Rays been so much better? You know the answer. Most nights, the Rays have had great pitching, which forgives a lot of shortcomings. And the Rays have hit well with runners in scoring position (.299).

Had that happened for the Rays again Monday, had Davis kept it to a one-run game into the seventh, had the Rays managed a hit with the bases loaded in the first or second and third in the second, maybe this game would have gone their way, too.

Eventually, however, their bats need to awaken.

Surely, the sleeping giants of their division are going to.

Boston Red Sox prove they're still a threat to light-hitting Tampa Bay Rays 05/24/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 7:47am]
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