Every team has their rival, regardless of sport. There is that team that, for whatever reason, seems to give the players an added incentive to play a bit harder, to push the envelope a bit more. That team that just gets under the skin of the players. For the Rays, that team is the Boston Red Sox, and vice versa.
Since virtually the first moment they stepped on the same field, the Rays have been the bane of the Red Sox existence. At first, it may have just been the Rays attempting to stand up for themselves against a higher payroll team in the same division. However, it has turned into a full blown rivalry that can ignite at any given moment.
The first dose of bad blood came on August 29, 2000. Pedro Martinez hit Rays leadoff batter Gerald Williams, who charged the mound and threw a punch at Pedro. All that accomplished was to anger Martinez, who mowed through the Rays lineup, finishing with a one hitter in a game where five Rays players, two coaches and the manager were ejected.
Then we move on to May 5, 2002, when Ryan Rupe drilled two batters in the first inning. In the second, Trot Nixon claimed to ‘lose the grip on his bat’ as it flew out to the mound at Rupe. Frank Castillo drilled Randy Winn in retaliation, and Nixon and Castillo both earned four and five game suspensions respectively.
Next, we move forward another two years, to September 27, 2004. Bronson Arroyo drilled Aubrey Huff and Tino Martinez, which led to Scott Kazmir hitting Manny Ramirez and Kevin Millar in consecutive at bats. Kazmir and manager Lou Pinella were both tossed from the game, as the benches cleared following this latest beanball war.
Another beanball war erupted between the Red Sox and Rays from April 22nd through the 24th, 2005. Three batters were hit in the first game, with two more getting drilled in the second meeting, with Millar getting drilled in both. After Lance Carter threw a pitch at David Ortiz‘s head during the third game, the benches cleared and four players were ejected.
Then we come to perhaps the most memorable scrap, when James Shields drilled Coco Crisp the game after the Red Sox outfielder took out Akinori Iwamura with a hard slide into second on a steal attempt. Crisp charged the mound after getting hit in the leg, and Shields threw a wild punch at him. Crisp swung back, and his punch missed connecting due to Dioner Navarro getting to Crisp at that moment. The benches cleared, and Crisp, Shields and Jonny Gomes were ejected.
This bad blood has even spilled over to the preseason. This year, after Sean Rodriguez hit a home run in Spring training off the always combustible Alfredo Aceves. Naturally, Aceves hit Rodriguez with a pitch the next time up, leading to a shouting match where Rodriguez had to be restrained from charging the mound. Then there was the incident Monday night, where Matthew Joyce was hit by John Lackey following the long drive that went just foul, on the heels of a home run in his previous at bat, eventually touching off another benches clearing incident.
The Red Sox fans can think of the Yankees as their rivals all they want, but for the players, it appears as though the Rays and Red Sox are truly rivals in the American League East. Seemingly any time these two teams get together, tempers could flare instantly. In fact, given the mutual disdain that seems to be prevalent between these teams, and how both have generally been competitive over the past five years, the Rays and Red Sox may have become the best true rivalry in baseball.