ST. PETERSBURG — In a dome that has sometimes sounded like Boston's home field, a roaring, cowbell-clanging crowd struggled to prove one thing Friday: The Rays fans would beat the Red Sox fans.
They cheered so loud for every strike thrown by pitcher James Shields, and jeered so loudly at every questionable call, that Red Sox fans at first barely sounded present. "The tide has changed. Definitely outnumber 'em now, no doubt about it," said Drew McCain, 38, a Rays fan from St. Petersburg.
"I don't think there's 2,000 Red Sox fans here," said Wayne MacDonald, 60, a lifelong Red Sox fan from Cape Cod who now lives in Orlando.
"It's total domination by Rays fans," said MacDonalds's son Todd, 26, a graphic artist.
However, the Red Sox Nation — in bright red jerseys and caps (and also in blue ones that blended with the Rays crowd) — showed that it was in the building, cheering loudly as Boston scored in the fifth inning.
Rays fans greeted them in T-shirts that said "Beat Boston," and one woman carried a tombstone that read "R.I.P. Boston."
Rays fans have groused for years that they sometimes get out-shouted at home because so many Red Sox fans flock to Tropicana Field, which has one of the weaker fan bases in the league.
"They're rude! They're some of the rudest fans," said Angie Blankenthorn, 39, of St. Petersburg.
Red Sox fan Nathan Huvelle, 26, a college student from Connecticut who paid $250 for his ticket, was aggravated by all the cowbells the Rays fans kept ringing. "They should throw the cowbells out," he said.
Just then the Saturday Night Live cowbell skit flashed onto the giant screen, and the crowd responded with an even louder clash. Huvelle threw up his hands: "Why, why?"
Red Sox fans Ben Scott and Josh Thompson, both in Sox jerseys and caps, were on their good behavior as they watched in the upper deck, and said Rays fans had not given them too hard a time. Not even before the game when they went to Ferg's, the bar near the Trop that is the unofficial cradle of Rays fans.
"We were kind of hesitant to go in there, but we went and we had a good time," Thompson said.
But not all were on their good behavior. Police sent seven fans packing out of the Trop by the end of the fifth inning.
Chris Michalicka, 31 of St. Petersburg, was No. 6. He was "being too loud at a baseball game" he said. As police led him outside Gate 4, he shouted "Go Rays! Go Rays!"
Pat and Kathy Winters of Spring Hill, originally from Massachusetts, knew they were in for some guff when they showed up at the Trop in their Red Sox hats and T-shirts, but took it all with a smile. "It's all friendly banter. I've never been afraid to come," said Kathy Winters, 49.
Many Tampa Bay residents grew up in the Northeast, and some keep rooting for their beloved Red Sox even after moving down here. Others fly in from Boston, saying that airfare is cheaper than paying off scalpers for seats in Fenway Park.
Nothing wrong with rooting for your team, but Rays fan Jason Collette bristles because "they come on like they own the place." He said for years it was easy to sympathize with the long-suffering Red Sox fans — his brother is one, after all — but after Boston twice won the World Series it seems like the team's fans "want to treat us like a lesser team."
"They went from the fans that you felt sorry for to the fans that you couldn't stand anymore," said Collette, 36, a Rays fan who drives over regularly from Orlando.