ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays are likable, Terry Francona said. He wants to be a fan, but the job of trying to manage the Red Sox past them in the American League East prevents him from doing so in good conscience.
And as Francona and Boston entered a three-game series Monday, he and his players seemed unconvinced their comparatively encyclopedic knowledge of pennant races would automatically wither the neophyte Rays.
The sentiment prevailed even after a 13-5 pummeling that left the clubs tied, but the defending World Series champion's businesslike treatment of a 19th win in 26 games was telling of just how hard the stretch drive could be for the Rays.
After the game, a few players stretched on recliners talking fantasy football and watching the Eagles and Cowboys, not David Ortiz's three-run, tone-setting homer in the first or would-be-Ray-turned-Ray-killer Jason Bay's 412-foot shot off the C-ring.
Third baseman Mike Lowell called it a "statement game," partly because Boston won at Tropicana Field for the first time in seven tries this season and hit six home runs in a game for the first time in more than five years.
Most important, he said, the Red Sox took the first game of the series. They also, as Francona put it, stayed "in the moment" but were quickly looking ahead to the next one tonight.
"The Rays are certainly the story of the year, and I understand that. If it wasn't for us, I would be a fan of them. I'm not," he said. "I really want to win. But I would hate to be walking around here like, 'Oh, we're the team that's been here.' We need to match the energy if not exceed their energy. I don't see why (these are) any bigger for them than they are for us."
Catcher Jason Varitek seemed completely on board as, refusing to even discuss the Rays' potential first playoff push.
"I really don't care what they have to go through," he said. "I don't care what they have to think. I care about what we have to do in here."