ST. PETERSBURG — It all started with a batter being hit by a pitch, charging the mound and punches being thrown.
Way before the June Fenway Park tangle featuring James Shields and Coco Crisp, the Rays and Red Sox tango started at the Trop.
An Aug. 29, 2000, game turned ugly, then comical, then menacing, as Rays leadoff man Gerald Williams went after Boston pitcher Pedro Martinez; Tampa Bay pitchers tried, somewhat unsuccessfully, to retaliate; and threats were made in the hallway between the clubhouses.
And Rays-Red Sox has never been the same since.
"It was just one of those things that happens in a game, and you don't know if it will last," Larry Rothschild, the Rays manager at the time, said Thursday. "And it just took off from there."
Later that season, three times two years after that, in 2004, in 2005, in (spring training!) 2006, this past June, the Rays and Red Sox have had issues.
And now they have one heck of a rivalry.
"I think it's No. 1," said Shields, who will throw the first pitch tonight.
The players who have been Rays the longest say it's something that just became part of the organizational culture, even when they were in the minor leagues.
"I've never really understood why these two teams never liked each other that much. It started way before I got here," said Carl Crawford, a Ray since 2002. "For some reason, we just seem to be that way with the Red Sox."
Crawford's best guess is it started out of similarity.
"I think it's because they have the same attitude we have," he said. "You have two people with the same attitude, they usually don't get along."
Others suggest it was born out of familiarity, with the teams playing 12-13 times in the Rays' first three seasons and 18-19 times a year since and with the Red Sox usually winning — 111 of the first 169 games.
"It kind of got forced on us in a hurry," said Jonny Gomes, a Ray since 2003. "They were beating us up. They were taking our lunch money year after year."
Certainly the fans are a factor, especially when Tropicana Field would look, and sound, like Fenway Park South. Which is something else the Rays say has changed and they hope to see tonight with a significantly pro-Rays crowd.
The rivalry seems clearly bigger to the Rays. The Red Sox have noticed — "I don't really know too much about the past and how it got started, but, you know, things just happen," closer Jonathan Papelbon said — but they still have that little thing going with the Yankees.
"I think it's getting there pretty close," said Rays reliever Dan Wheeler, a native New Englander. "I can't say it's Yankees-Red Sox because that's a long, historic rivalry. But the Red Sox, in order to get to the (2004) World Series and win that World Series and break through the curse of Babe Ruth or whatever, they had to go through the Yankees. And they did that.
"We don't have that history, but there's a little bit of that for us right now. They're the Red Sox, and we're the Rays. So I think for us to get there, why wouldn't we have to go through the Red Sox? That's just the way it goes."
Both sides predict the ALCS games, which start tonight, will be emotional and intense. But they say the expectation of renewed hostilities is a figment of the media's collective imagination.
"Bad blood? There's no bad blood," Boston's David Ortiz said. "This is not WWF (wrestling), man. This is a baseball game, bro, come on. I went out there and saw all of them. And they're hugging me, and I'm hugging them back.
"It's a game. Sometimes you have things happening in the game and it stays on the field. It's not like you're going to walk in the parking lot and wait for somebody to whoop his a - - ."
Manager Joe Maddon, with a fine appreciation for history, said the Rays-Red Sox rivalry is actually just getting started because they finally have something to be rivals about.
"I know a lot is being made of past pugilistic events, but that has nothing to do with today; nothing," Maddon said. "Those were when the Devil Rays were really struggling and the games had an entirely different tone to them. We're a different team, a different organization now.
"The rivalry is being built because we're good. We're in the same division, and now we're good."
Friday, Oct. 10, 2008
"We're here for real. A lot of people expected us to go down in June, July and August, and we're still here in October."
Dioner Navarro, Rays catcher
|Game 1||Game 2||Game 3||Game 4||Game 5*||Game 6*||Game 7*|
All games on TBS | * if necessary
Demystifying the Sox: What's up with Youkilis' stance? What is Papelbon saying? Plus other questions answered. 3X
Jackson in, Hinske out: The Rays add a pitcher at the expense of an outfielder. 6X
Give him a break: Let's not forget Vince Naimoli. 1A
Historic games: A look at the best ALCS moments. 2C
On the Web: Photos from the 2008 Rays-Red Sox games. rays.tampbay.com
American League Championship Series: vs. Red Sox