BOSTON — So many times, the Rays have trudged out of the cramped visitors clubhouse and through the potholed and puddled concourse of Fenway Park with their heads down in defeat.
Only once in their first 12 seasons had they won more than three games in Boston, and that was in 1999. Twelve times they'd unpacked and packed back up without a single win.
But when they walked out Monday afternoon, everything looked different. Because it was.
The 8-2 victory in the Patriots' Day matinee extended the Rays' franchise-record start to an MLB best 10-3 — and gave them more wins than they had all of April 2009. It made them a perfect 7-0 on the road, setting a franchise road record (when last season's finale at Texas is tacked on) and matching their second-longest overall winning streak. It pushed them alone atop the AL East.
And it marked a seismic moment: a four-game sweep of the Sox.
"I'd have never thought I'd see the day we would sweep the Red Sox in their home stadium," said Carl Crawford, the Ray who has endured the most losses. "It just feels real good to be able to come in and take four games away from them like that."
"Awesome," Ben Zobrist said. "Fantastic. Amazing."
"You just don't do that up here," manager Joe Maddon said.
They did it, again, Monday with another performance of their impressive all-around play.
Jeff Niemann overcame the inconveniences of the 11:05 a.m. game time (and the three 6 a.m. cell phone alarms he slept through before the hotel phone and room-service knock got him up) to deliver the latest in the line of strong starts, allowing just five hits over seven innings. For the series, the Rays held the Sox to a .154 average and a stunning 0-for-24 with runners in scoring position.
B.J. Upton again supplied the power — the three-run homer in the third inning his fourth homer in five games — as they battered another supposedly elite pitcher (John Lackey), rapping 12 hits overall. They were aggressive on the bases, handy in the field and heads-up all around, playing poised and confident in adverse conditions.
"The focus is great, the intensity, their interaction, how they've gone about their business," Maddon said. "I'm just trying to stay out of the way. I truly mean that. This is what you look for. And now it's up to us to maintain this kind of an effort daily."
Based on the early evidence, they're making a strong case to convince even any doubters that they're indeed pretty good.
"I hope so," Zobrist said. "I hope all the Red Sox fans, anyway."
"Yeah," Crawford said. "I don't think they like it, either."
Obviously not, as they booed the staggering and bumbling hometown team (and cheered at one point "Let's Go, Bruins"), which is off to a 4-9 start and 1-6 home mark that is its worst since, oh, 1932.
Maddon, in between saying how "very unusual" and "awesome" the sweep felt, took a diplomatic approach, noting how the timing was right for the Rays as the Sox, who hadn't been swept in a four-game series at home since an August 2006 five-game set with the Yankees, were without some key players (Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Cameron) and integrating others into their lineup.
"They're going to come back, they're going to be fine, they're going to get hot," he said. "They're going to do all those things."
Maybe so. But the Rays (who did sweep a two-game series at Boston in 1999) were willing to enjoy the moment — as well as the six-game edge they have over the sagging Sox.
"We've got a nice little winning streak, getting ahead in the standings. I know it's early, but every game is important in this division, and it's nice to jump out ahead," Crawford said. "All the things seem to be going our way right now."
Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@ sptimes.com.