The most exciting moment in the young history of the Tampa Bay Rays was when David Price forced Jed Lowrie to ground out in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series to send the upstart Rays to the World Series. Since that Rays-Red Sox series, however, both teams have seen almost all their players leave. For the Rays, the only regular player from that team who is still present is Evan Longoria. Ben Zobrist was a backup, David Price came up at the end of the year, and Jeff Niemann made a handful appearances, but that’s it. For the Red Sox, they still have several of the core players from their 2008 incarnation. Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz will anchor their lineup, and Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz remain at the forefront of their rotation. David Ross also appeared in 8 games for Boston in 2008 before establishing his career in Atlanta the following season. There are some familiar faces, some players who remember that fateful series and can never let it go. But on the whole, these are totally different franchises.
Joe Maddon still manages the Rays, but the Red Sox are now two manager removed from Terry Francona. Fernando Rodney is four removed from Troy Percival, and five if you want to count Price usurping the closer role from Percival in the postseason. Even longtime Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon is long gone. The Rays’ top three of Scott Kazmir, James Shields, and Matt Garza has been replaced by Price, Alex Cobb, and Matt Moore. Tim Wakefield has been retired for years, Daisuke Matsuzaka has been given up on, and Josh Beckett is in Los Angeles. The Rays’ core of Longoria, Carl Crawford, and Carlos Pena, have been replaced by Longoria, Ben Zobrist, and James Loney (at least for this year), and the Red Sox’ veteran base of Jason Varitek, Kevin Youkilis, Mike Lowell, and Manny Ramirez has been usurped by Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Mike Napoli, Will Middlebrooks, and a platoon between Jonny Gomes and Mike Carp. What has happened to those two excellent franchises who dueled in that epic ALCS? Is five years such a long time? In baseball, indeed it is. But despite the names changing, the Rays and Red Sox are primed for a series just as exciting and maybe even more so. Get excited for Rays-Red Sox once again–the final result could be something we will be talking about for a very long time.