Now that Tom Brady has dumped the Patriots and landed with the Bucs, all three professional franchises in Tampa Bay now have legitimate rivalries with New England. And if you really want to dig into an acrimonious history, let’s start with baseball.
The Rays-Red Sox rivalry is like a long-running hit show. Drama. Villains. Heroes. Threats. Retribution.
And action. Lots of action.
The narrative had a blockbuster beginning, going back nearly to the beginning of Rays’ time, an Aug. 29, 2000, battle at the Trop.
Hall-of-Famer-to-be Pedro Martinez hit Gerald Williams with his fourth pitch of the night. Williams aggressively charged the mound, fists flying. Benches cleared for the first of two times. Eight Rays (players and coaches) ended up ejected as they, somewhat tragi-comically, couldn’t properly retaliate. Two Sox were taken to the hospital. Martinez, through it all, delivered one of his greatest games, taking a no-hitter into the ninth, broken up by John Flaherty. Players gathered in the hallways between the clubhouses and make threats of further trouble.
How’s that for Episode 1?
We truly can’t list all the beefs and issues the teams have had, all the batters that were hit, punches that were thrown, names that were called, bats that were flung and threats that were made in what has been an underrated rivalry.
But here are some other highlights:
On June 5, 2008, a day after Coco Crisp slid hard into second baseman Akinori Iwamura, Rays starter James Shields hit the Sox centerfielder, who wildly charged the mound. Shields took a now famous roundhouse swing as they exchanged punches, and the benches emptied for what by baseball standards was a serious brawl. Three players were ejected, five hit by pitches and eight suspended. The Rays would say later it was a seminal moment in their breakthrough season that included a seven-game American League Championship Series win over the Red Sox on the way to their first, and still only, World Series appearance.
Spring training is for fruity drinks and relaxing sunsets, right? Not on March 27, 2006, when a close play at the plate turned into a benches-clearing brawl as Sox reliever Julian Tavarez stepped on Rays outfielder Joey Gathright’s arm and punched him in the face after he attempted to score.
After five hit batters in the first two games of the series, things really got interesting in the April 24, 2005, finale. A series of beanballs led to six ejections, and an even more interesting exchange of words between two big names. First, Sox starter Curt Schilling went after Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella, claiming “Players on that team are saying, this is why we lose a hundred games a year, because this idiot makes us do stuff like this." Piniella responded, saying, among other things, “I have forgot more baseball than this guy knows."
The teams were nearly 1,000 miles apart, but the competition was head to head on Sept. 28, 2011, what many still consider baseball’s greatest night. First the Red Sox completed their staggering collapse, losing in Baltimore when, of all people, ex-Ray Carl Crawford failed to make a game-saving play. Then three minutes later, Evan Longoria delivered the dramatic homer against the Yankees that launched the Rays improbably into the playoffs, a celebration enhanced by coming at the expense of the Sox.
Six weeks earlier, the teams had another benches-clearing brawl, this time because Rays outfielder Matt Joyce had the audacity to homer off Boston’s John Lackey, who barked at him, then hit him. But on July 29, 2013, after an admittedly blown call helped the Rays to a 2-1 win that pushed them ahead of the Sox for first place, the team Twitter accounts then sparred. First, the Rays pointed out that the Fenway Park scoreboard needed to fix the standings. Then the Sox bragged about soon returning to Tampa “for our home games at the Trop."
David Oritz’s act was well known, but some Rays were ruffled when Big Papi flipped his bat and took a slow shuffle around the bases after a July 28, 2014, homer. There was a preface: In May, David Price avenged a similar schtick in the 2013 playoffs hitting Ortiz, who then declared war on the Rays lefty. This time, Chris Archer was annoyed, charging that Ortiz “feels like he’s bigger than the game. He feels like the show is all about him." Ortiz replied dismissively to the Rays’ second-year starter: “He’s not the right guy to be saying that. Got two days in the league."
Other red-hot moments
A month after the Pedro Martinez game, the Rays beat the Sox to end their hopes of making the playoffs and closer Roberto Hernandez waved goodbye from the mound. … In a silly tit for tat over several seasons, the teams either played annoying or no music for the visitors’ batting practice. B.J. Upton took matters into his own hands one year, and ran an extension cord from the dugout to plug in a portable sound system near home plate. … Still unresolved is if there was a phantom shouter in the Boston bullpen leading to the confusion between Wil Myers and Desmond Jennings, and the uncaught fly ball that changed the momentum in the 2013 division series. … After four-time Rays All-Star Carl Crawford signed a big bucks — and poorly advised — free-agent deal with the Red Sox, he said at his news conference: “My heart is in Boston." … Dan Johnson started building his legend with a ninth-inning score-tying pinch-hit homer off Jonathan Papelbon in Fenway that led to a pivotal September 2008 win.