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Rays expect ALCS games to resemble regular-season matchups

Joe Maddon, embracing Akinori Iwamura, says he expects that the familiarity between the Rays and Red Sox will balance out.

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Joe Maddon, embracing Akinori Iwamura, says he expects that the familiarity between the Rays and Red Sox will balance out.

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays beat out the Red Sox over the full six-month season, winning the American League East by a two-game margin. They beat them in head-to-head competition, winning 10 of the 18 games. They even beat them up in hand-to-hand combat, based on the severity of their suspensions stemming from the June 5 brawl.

And now they have to beat them four times in a seven-game stretch to get to the World Series.

The American League Championship Series matchup between the Rays and the Red Sox that starts Friday should be intense, hard-fought, emotional.

And, more than anything else, familiar.

"I think you can expect a lot of what you saw during the regular season; I do," Rays manager Joe Maddon said Tuesday. "There will be a lot of tight games, I think. Both sides have got good starting pitching and bullpens. Offensively, they probably have a little bit more hitting ability overall, but we have that ability to hit in the clutch.

"I just think you're going to see the same, what you saw during the course of the year."

Of the 18 games, 11 were decided by three runs or fewer, six by one run (all won by the Rays), two in extra innings. The Rays won eight of the nine at Tropicana Field, the Sox seven of the nine at Fenway Park.

How that is reflected through the ebb and flow of a seven-game series — played over 10 days — should be interesting.

When Maddon met with the team in Detroit during the final weekend of the regular season, he spoke about the potential for extreme highs and lows of a postseason series.

The point, Maddon said, was to make sure players would "understand that something bad can happen, that we're going to face some difficult moments, and you have to fight through them, because once today's over you have to move on to the next day, kind of like we've been doing all year."

He cites the 1960 World Series, when the Pirates lost three games by major margins of 13, 10 and 12 runs but beat the Yankees in the other four (by a combined seven runs) and won the championship.

"So in a seven-game series like this, you truly have to play it one at a time and understand regardless what happened the day before, momentum is only as strong or as good as your starting pitcher the next day," Maddon said. "You talk about one at a time, it's really magnified at this particular juncture."

Executive vice president Andrew Friedman said he thinks the series will be decided by pitching and defense — "just like a number of our games were this year" — but also played up the advantage the Rays have of playing four of the games at Tropicana Field, where they were 54-24 (plus 3-0 at Disney) and are 2-0 in the postseason.

"The one thing that is obviously helpful to us is that over the course of the 162 games we were able to win homefield advantage, which is a benefit for us," Friedman said. "And we do have a unique homefield, which certainly creates an advantage."

The familiarity could work to either team's advantage, Maddon said.

"I think it's balanced out," he said. "They're probably saying the same things — it's pretty even based on the familiarity with the two groups, the number of times that we have played against one another, the close games we have played against each another; the fact that we've finally broken through up there a little bit and they got their win down here.

"It's really a very balanced situation and it's going to come down to the pitching once again. … It's going to be a grind-it-out kind of series."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Wild boys

The Rays-Red Sox matchup marks the 10th time in the 14 seasons of wild-card play (and 28 pairings) that teams from the same division are competing in the LCS. Of the first nine, the division champ won five and the wild-card team won four.

Year Div. WC Winner

1996-A Yanks Orioles Yanks

1997-N Braves Marlins Marlins

1999-A Yanks Red Sox Yanks

1999-N Braves Mets Braves

2003-A Yanks Red Sox Yanks

2004-A Yanks Red Sox Red Sox

2004-N Cards Astros Cards

2005-N Cards Astros Astros

2007-N D'backs Rockies Rockies

Rays expect ALCS games to resemble regular-season matchups 10/07/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 9, 2008 8:08am]

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