BOSTON — As early as it was, the April 8 loss in Boston was arguably the toughest of the Rays season, at least until the toe-tagging Sept. 20 implosion in Toronto.
In the wreckage of the mess made by Matt Andriese and Alex Colome that frigid Sunday afternoon at Fenway Park, allowing six runs on seven hits to 10 batters over 45 mostly painstaking pitches to turn a 7-2 lead into an 8-7 loss, spawned a most unusual phenomenon:
A likable, maybe even lovable, Red Sox team.
"Since day one when we came back from that (season-opening) road trip, Tampa-Miami, you had a feeling that the city was going to fall in love with them,'' said Alex Cora, the first year manager but a veteran of 3 ½ seasons playing in Boston.
"We had that comeback against Tampa. We were down five, we came back and people started to recognize that, hey, man, they fight all the way to the end. And that's the way it should be. Everywhere I go now in the city it's about them, which is cool.''
These are the Boston bullies. The biggest spenders in the game. The team that somewhat lovably went 86 years without winning one World Series, and now, opened play Tuesday in pursuit of a fourth title in 15 years, and makes a point to put all that winning in your face. Consider the pain of those pre-schoolers in Worcester, Peabody and Quincy who haven't seen a Sox World Series championship in their lifetime.
"Just a lot of times they're better than anybody else, they get under your skin and they have a bigger payroll,'' said Sox starter David Price, who competed against them during his 6 ½ seasons, mostly with the Rays. "I feel like teams with lesser payroll could kind of resent the Red Sox in that way.''
And now other people — besides their base fans in Boston (and, oh, on the west coast of Florida) — actually like the Sawx?
The Dodgers and Red Sox convene tonight at Fenway Park, 102 years since they last met in the Fall Classic. How long ago was 1916? Babe Ruth pitched. #Dodgers #RedSox @Dodgers @RedSox @mjfennelly @TB_Times #WorldSeries https://t.co/Tz8IEDJ9WQ pic.twitter.com/zICgr1Evxj— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) October 23, 2018
"I'm very proud of them. And I'm glad that people are recognizing them, not only here in Boston but all over the world,'' Cora said. "It's a likable team. We've been talking about them … how humble they are. And now people are getting to know them – Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, (Jackie Bradley Jr.), David Price. It's a fun group.''
Obviously they helped their appeal with a sizzling start, 17-1 after the opening day collapse of their own at the Trop, and how they continued their domination throughout the season, rolling up a majors-most 108 wins.
But, more so, how they did it.
The relentless style of play and athleticism is appealing. Also endearing is a sense of team and togetherness, with very few of the clubhouse squabbles that tend to become public in Boston and little controversy.
Dumping Hanley Ramirez in late May was about their biggest controversy that had to be navigated by Cora, who deserves credit for his communicative style.
They had no polarizing, antagonizing or villainous players. No Manny Ramirez. Or, for example, Manny Machado.
Even most of the talk-radio chatter was limited to relatively benign subject matter — top starter Chris Sale's durability, whether Rafael Devers should be the everyday third baseman, if they did enough to improve the bullpen, will Price finally win in the postseason.
"I think it's the guys we have,'' said Sale, who started Tuesday's opener. "It's kind of the culture, the tone that A.C. set, as well. We like to have fun, and we have our moments where we show our excitement and attitude, but as a whole we have a lot of guys that just play the game the right way.
"Guys that show up, work hard, play hard. Then we go home. There's not a whole lot of other things that we're looking to get out of this other than winning. I think when you have an entire group of players, coaching staff that's just committed and dedicated to winning and that's No. 1, 2 and 3 on the depth chart, I think that's a result of that.''
Former Rays are pretty much everywhere these days. Here are five you will see and hear about during the World Series. #Dodgers #RedSox @Dodgers @RedSox @TB_Times @TBTimes_Rays #WorldSeries https://t.co/8Nun6H6uYo— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) October 23, 2018
That culture was born in St. Petersburg, as the Sox gathered two nights before the season opener for a team dinner at the 400 Beach Seafood & Tap House across from the Vinoy. All players and staff showed up, 56 in all, and enjoyed.
"That was huge,'' Cora recalled Tuesday. "It was a great moment. There's been some powerful moments throughout the season and that was the first one. To have the whole traveling party in one place. You had guys talking about their experiences. (Former star) Jason Varitek talking about what it means for him to be a Red Sox. David Price, how hungry he is to win a World Series. J.D. Martinez, we asked him how he feels to hit four home runs in one game. All that stuff.
"And then at the end, everybody knows about the situation with Craig (Kimbrel, the closer who missed a chunk of spring training to attend to medical issues with his infant daughter).
"He was the last guy that talked. And he was very powerful, you know. … The way he talked, there were — it was emotional. It was emotional. And it was a great moment for us.''
With the chance for more to come.
Contact Marc Topkin at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Rays.