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AL East champs ready for old guard

AL East champs ready for old guard

CHICAGO -- The inevitable has come to fruition.

After a season's worth of battling the Red Sox, the Rays now find themselves locked and loaded for one final battle against their American League East rivals. This time the venue is the American League Championship Series and to the victor goes the spoils: an entree to the 2008 World Series.

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"It's going to be exciting," Carl Crawford said. "I know it's going to be good for TV, because we're going to come to play hard, and they're going to come to play hard. It's going to be a good series."
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The Rays went 10-8 against the Red Sox in 2008. At Tropicana Field, the Rays held an 8-1 advantage, twice sweeping the Red Sox, while at Fenway Park the Rays went 2-7 and got swept twice.

Fortunately for the Rays, they will have four games at Tropicana Field during the best-of-seven series by virtue of being a division winner and the Red Sox being the Wild Card team.

Where this rivalry is concerned, everything looks better at home.

Rays hitters scored 17 fewer runs in nine games at Fenway Park than they scored at Tropicana Field. And conversely, Red Sox hitters scored 21 fewer runs at Tropicana Field than they scored at Fenway.

But Grant Balfour said all of that is in the past.

"The records don't matter now," Balfour said. "We've got to play hard. We've got to play fundamental baseball. You know we've got to go right after them. This team is up for a challenge. We've shown that all year. We've played hard and we do the little things right and we're going to continue to do that."

J.P. Howell said the Red Sox are a lot like the White Sox.

"But they have a lot more pop," Howell said. "They play the game a little different. They try to go one run at a time rather than three at a time. And they can go three at a time. They're very diverse as an offense. So it's going to be an interesting series.

"They've seen us a bunch and we've seen them a bunch, so it works both ways. It's going to be a battle and it's going to come down to execution in the intense moments."

Dan Wheeler echoed Howell's sentiments.

"There's no question, it's going to be a battle -- there's no question," Wheeler said. "The Red Sox, they're defending champions. In order to be a champion, you have to play a champion and beat a champion. They're very impressive, pitching, defense, hitting. It's not going to be easy."

Wheeler grew up in Rhode Island as a Red Sox fan.

"I always think back growing up as a Red Sox fan," Wheeler said. "In order for the Red Sox to get to the World Series, they had to beat the Yankees. And it seems like it's kind of been like that with the Rays. And now we have to get through the Red Sox."

James Shields, the likely starter for Game 1 for the Rays, said the feeling all along was that it would come down to one final showdown with the Red Sox.

"It is what it is, man," Shields said. "We're ready to go. We're on top of the world right now. Our guys have a lot of confidence and we're going to bring that into the next series."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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