CHICAGO — The Red Sox had the final say last October in eliminating the Rays from the first round of the playoffs. But they were an issue for them all season, winning 12 of the 19 games and relegating them to wild-card status.
"They kept us out of first place," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "They definitely did. 7-12, that's not good, and a lot of them were really close games."
Six were decided from the ninth on, three by walkoffs. Reversing that record, or at least evening it out, would be of considerable benefit this season.
And the Rays get their first chance tonight when they open a three-game series at Fenway Park against the Sox, who are also off to a slow start at 12-14.
"They're good," Maddon said. "They're good again. Every team in our division is good. The whole league is good. I've talk about the parity that's going to exist through the entire season. It's going to be hard to run away and hide the way this thing is balanced out."
ERIK THE GREAT? Veteran LHP Erik Bedard flew to Boston ahead of the early morning-arriving team to be better rested for tonight's start.
Maddon is confident Bedard will have a better showing, insisting that as bad as his stat line looked Thursday — walking four in an ugly first inning and lasting only four in throwing 90 pitches — there were encouraging signs in how he threw, specifically just missing the inside corner repeatedly.
With the pitch limits from his first two starts (75 and 90) lifted, Maddon said he told Bedard he expects better.
"The blanket's off so go, just go and get deeper into the game because you have the stuff to get deep in the game, you have the experience to get deep into the game," Maddon said.
WELCOME TO FENWAY: C Ryan Hanigan grew up outside of Boston going to Red Sox games as a kid, but this series will be the first time he has played there as a big-leaguer.
"I'm looking forward to it," Hanigan said. "It'll be fun."
Hanigan has played at Fenway once, in a high school all-star game. But now he's playing in the big leagues, against the Red Sox, and with a large group of relatives, friends, and former youth and school teammates and coaches on hand cheering him on. "There'll be a whole lot of that going on," he said.
DD DH: OF David DeJesus made his fourth straight start at DH Monday, still bothered by a sore left shoulder he injured April 18 diving for a ball against the Yankees at the Trop. "I think I just banged it on the ground, and it's an unforgiving ground," he said. "It's getting better though. I'd probably say we're at 85 percent." DeJesus said he expects to return to the outfield in Boston, noting that the short leftfield wall makes for less taxing throws. Maddon said that sounded about right but said "there's no rush on it," noting how well Matt Joyce has been playing.
MEDICAL MATTERS: Maddon said RHP Jeremy Hellickson, who threw off the mound at the Trop Sunday for the first time since Jan. 29 arthroscopic elbow surgery, is "feeling really good." And RHP Alex Cobb, sidelined by an April 12 oblique strain, is playing catch at a distance of 90 feet. Cobb is hoping for a late May return, Hellickson eyeing early June.
MISCELLANY: Tonight will be the team's 1,000th game since changing from Devil Rays to Rays in 2008, with a 561-437 record going into Monday. … The Rays on Sunday were the first team to make four errors in an inning since the Rangers on Sept. 26, and the first team to do that and hit into four double plays since the Orioles on May 13, 1999. … The Rays on Sunday also allowed nine runs for the fifth time, matching the Astros for the AL most. … Maddon, OFs Wil Myers and Brandon Guyer, RHP Heath Bell and team president Matt Silverman will attend the Tampa Chamber of Commerce lunch on May 9; see tampachamber.com for ticket info.