The buildup of this series will be the heavyweight Red Sox, backed by their two World Series championships in the past four seasons, going against the Rays, the lovable underdogs with their payroll of roughly $43 million
The best-of-seven series starts on Friday night at 8:37 ET on TBS at Tropicana Field. While this is the first time the Rays have been in the postseason, it marks the fourth time the Red Sox have been in the ALCS in the past six years.
"You know, it's going to be fun," said Red Sox lefty Jon Lester. "It's going to be a fun series going down there to Tropicana Field and playing those guys. You know, we've had some good battles with them all year. Hopefully, we can go down there and steal a win or two wins and get some momentum on our side and come back home. It's going to be a grind, but we're up for the challenge, and hopefully, we can pull it out."
Already in this postseason, the Red Sox have dethroned the Angels, the only team in Major League Baseball to win 100 games this season.
The Rays played the Red Sox toe-to-toe this year, taking 10 of the 18 meetings, including eight of the nine played at Tropicana Field.
"We played the Rays a lot this year, and they did [well] the whole season," said Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. "We know what they did with the White Sox. When you get this far, you're playing against the best. Their lineup is tough. You have to be careful."
Rays vs. Red Sox in 2008
|4/25||TB, 5-4 (11)||Dohmann||Timlin||Tropicana Field|
|4/26||TB, 2-1||Dohmann||Buchholz||Tropicana Field|
|4/27 ||TB, 3-0||Shields||Beckett||Tropicana Field|
|5/2||BOS, 7-3||Buchholz||Jackson||Fenway Park|
|5/3||BOS, 12-4||Beckett||Shields||Fenway Park|
|5/4||BOS, 7-3||Lester||Kazmir||Fenway Park|
|6/3||BOS, 7-4||Masterson||Garza||Fenway Park|
|6/4||BOS, 5-1||Beckett||Jackson||Fenway Park|
|6/5||BOS, 7-1||Lester||Shields||Fenway Park|
|6/30||TB, 5-4||Shields||Masterson||Tropicana Field|
|7/1||TB, 3-1||Garza||Wakefield||Tropicana Field|
|7/2||TB, 7-6||Glover||Hansen||Tropicana Field|
|9/8||BOS, 3-0||Lester||Jackson||Fenway Park|
|9/9||TB, 5-4||Wheeler||Papelbon||Fenway Park|
|9/10||TB, 4-2 (14)||Miller||Timlin||Fenway Park|
|9/15||BOS, 13-5||Matsuzaka||Kazmir||Tropicana Field|
|9/16||TB, 2-1||Wheeler||Masterson ||Tropicana Field|
|9/17||TB, 10-3||Balfour||Wakefield||Tropicana Field|
In this series, the Red Sox will be without the services of third baseman Mike Lowell, who became ineligible after he was taken off the AL Division Series roster on Monday with right hip woes.
But all year, the Red Sox have battled injury obstacles and they continue to find ways to overcome them. If one thing became clear in the ALDS, it's that right fielder J.D. Drew finally seems to be getting healthy. Drew clubbed a game-winning homer in Game 2 against the Angels.
There figure to be few secrets between the Sox and Rays, considering that they played each other six times in September.
"Both teams are very familiar with each other," said Lowell. "It all comes down to execution. I think the way they played Chicago, their regular season wasn't a fluke and they're a good team. No matter who we were going to play in the next round, it was going to be a good series."
Clearly, the Rays earned the respect of the Red Sox over the course of the season.
"Well, the Rays are a great team," said Red Sox shortstop Jed Lowrie, who delivered the game-winning hit in Game 4 on Monday. "We've played them a lot this year. They've got great starting pitching, and their bullpen is much improved from what it's been in the past. We just have to go out and play our game. We know they're going to show up every day and get their timely hits and pitch well and play good defense. So we've got to go out and do the same thing."
The Red Sox have yet to divulge their pitching rotation for this series. They could go with Josh Beckett or Daisuke Matsuzaka in Game 1. Lester should be available by Game 2, but perhaps, the Red Sox will hold him out for Game 3, so he can pitch at Fenway Park, where the southpaw has been dominant all year long.
Knuckleballer Tim Wakefield is also likely to be worked back into the rotation after being a spectator in the ALDS.
The Rays counter with some top-notch pitching of their own, backed by the talented arms of James Shields, Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza and Andy Sonnanstine.
"We have a long road ahead of us still," said Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon. "It's going to be another tough battle. At this time of year, nobody is going to lay down for you, that's for sure."