The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees have one of the most storied rivalries in all of sports. Nobody will deny that the Yankees and Red Sox have the most intense rivalry in baseball—and perhaps major sports in the United States all together. However, in recent seasons, the Tampa Bay Rays and Red Sox have made headlines for a rivalry that has grown increasingly heated.
History of Red Sox vs. Rays Rivalry
The Rays have only been a franchise since the 1998 season, but they already have a lengthy history of bad blood and on-field incidents with the Red Sox. Since the Rays are still in their infancy, there have been small opportunities for the rivalry to really fester, but the Rays and Red Sox have taken advantage of those chances. Take a look at the bad blood that has formed between the two American League East rivals over the past twenty seasons.
The first incident dates back to when Tampa Bay was still known as the “Devil Rays.” However, a fight in 2000 often pops up on a list of baseball’s most unforgettable brawls. It comes as no surprise that Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez was in the middle of this, as he had a temperament on the mound to match his overpowering arm.
Martinez hit Tampa outfielder Gerald Williams on the wrist in the very first at-bat of the game, and Williams charged the mound and caught Martinez with a solid punch before the benches cleared. Eight different Rays players were ejected during that game, but Martinez was not ejected and went on to retire the next 24 batters he faced before his no-hitter was broken up in the ninth inning.
One month after the brawl, the Rays met the Red Sox again with the opportunity to eliminate them from the playoffs. Tampa Bay took an 8-4 lead into the ninth inning when the Red Sox attempted a comeback against Rays closer Roberto Hernandez. Hernandez settled down and struck out Trot Nixon to end the game. Knowing full well that the Red Sox had just been eliminated, Hernandez proceeded to wave goodbye to Nixon and the Red Sox from the mound as the Rays celebrated.
In early May of 2002, the two teams were involved in another big series. The aforementioned Trot Nixon ended the series with a four-game suspension for throwing his bat at a Rays pitcher. Rays pitcher Ryan Rupe had plunked both Nomar Garciaparra and Shea Hillenbrand in the first inning, so when Nixon’s bat “slipped” out of his hand and in Rupe’s direction later on in the game, it was deemed intentional. Red Sox pitcher Frank Castillo received a five-game suspension for retaliating when the Rays came up to bat.
In 2005, after the first two games of a three-game series saw five hit batters, emotions finally boiled over in the third game. Red Sox starter Bronson Arroyo hit Aubrey Huff in the first inning. An inning later, Rays starter Lance Carter threw a pitch behind Red Sox perennial all star Manny Ramirez. The umpires warned both benches, and Ramirez proceeded to hit a home run on the next pitch Carter threw. Clearly frustrated, Carter threw at the next hitter, David Ortiz, nearly hitting him in the head. Six players were ejected, and Red Sox starter Curt Schilling and Rays manager Lou Pinellla exchanged jabs in the press.
The rivalry got so intense that even Spring Training saw some antics as well. Red Sox pitcher Julian Tavarez got a 10-game suspension after sucker-punching Rays outfielder Joey Gathright following a play at the plate.
Up until this point in the history, the Rays were always the huge underdog and had never had a winning season. Therefore, the rivalry was more in the press than in the standings. That changed in 2008 when the Rays were challenging for the division title. In a three-game series, Red Sox outfielder Coco Crisp had slid hard into second base and taken out Rays second baseman Akinori Iwamura, so Rays ace James Shields drilled him in response. Crisp charged the mound, and after Shields missed with his punch, Crisp landed a few before the benches entered the melee.
The last big event between these two occurred in 2012. After being hit once in their previous game, it became clear that the Red Sox were trying to hit Rays DH Luke Scott for whatever reason. The first pitch of the at-bat was behind him at almost 100 mph, and that was followed by two more inside pitches before he was hit. No punches were thrown, but plenty of words were exchanged and a lengthy delay ensued, led mostly by both managers barking at one another.
Head to Head Comparison of Red Sox vs. Rays
Due to the futility of the Rays in their first decade of existence, the Rays have an all-time losing record against almost everyone. The Red Sox lead the series against the Rays 220-164, which includes a 120-71 mark at Fenway and a 100-93 record at Tropicana Field. In the 1990s, the Red Sox held a one-game advantage of 13-12 against the infant Rays, but the Red Sox really took advantage of the poor play of the Rays in the 2000s with a ridiculous mark of 118-69. The 2010s have seen a more even balance in the rivalry, with the Red Sox holding a slim advantage of 89-83, with almost identical records at both venues.
The Red Sox and Rays have met in the playoffs twice with each team winning a series. In 2008, the Rays beat the Red Sox 4-3 in the ALCS while the Red Sox got their revenge in 2013, beating the Rays 3-1 in the ALDS.
Red Sox vs. Rays Rivalry Outlook
Like all rivalries, this one really blooms into open combat when the two teams are fighting for the AL East title. The rivalry has simmered of late after being very open and hostile in the early 2000s, but the Red Sox newfound Alpha Dog status in the American League could lead to bad blood rising once again if the Rays challenge them for supremacy.