No love is lost with Sox, Rays
May 31. 2014 7:23PM
BOSTON - AS THE visitors showered, dressed, devoured platefuls of the postgame spread and watched hockey while winding down from an eventful, emotional evening at Fenway Park, there was a single piece of paper stuck to the beam in the center of their cramped clubhouse. It carried an announcement:
Red Sox and Rays Catholic Mass. Sunday. 10 a.m. In the Red Sox Family Room.
There were a few on both sides who could've probably used some cleansing after Friday night's tense festivities, which saw tempers running hot from the first inning forward after David Price drilled David Ortiz with what sure appeared to be a purpose, which featured plenty of violent aggression, pointed threats, angry cussing - and which became the latest chapter in a rivalry so animus it's somewhat hard to picture the teams gathering peacefully for anything. Even for church.
"We've been down this road with these guys for a while," said Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon, and that's no exaggeration. Dating back to 2000, when Gerald Williams got his extremely tight pants in a bunch and charged Pedro Martinez, the teams have a history of bad blood that through the years has included, among other incidents, Trot Nixon throwing a bat at Ryan Rupe, Julian Tavares and Joey Gathright duking it out during spring training and Coco Crisp throwing haymakers at James Shields.
But the hatred seems to still be building. With a minor dust-up last Sunday in St. Petersburg, then Friday's near-fracas, this became the third straight season in which the benches cleared over a disagreement between these two teams. In 2012, it came after Franklin Morales succeeded on his third attempt to plunk Luke Scott. In 2013, it came after an argument between John Lackey and Matt Joyce. In 2014, it came when Jonny Gomes came in from left field to confront Yunel Escobar.
And after the rhetoric being spewed from the home clubhouse late Friday - including a declaration from the de facto president of Red Sox Nation - the question now is what comes next.
"It's a war," said Ortiz, who expressed a belief he was drilled in retaliation for hitting two homers off Price in Game 2 of last year's American League Division Series, after which the ace lefty went on a rant that provoked a public apology and a phone call between the two stars. Ortiz thought that smoothed things out, and it was over.
But with the Rays and Red Sox, it never is.
"It's on. Next time he hits me, he better bring the gloves. I have no respect for him no more," the Sox designated hitter said. "I thought everything was cool. You can't be acting like a little girl out there. You aren't going to win every time. When you give it up, that's an experience for the next time. But when you're to be acting like a little -- every time you give it up, bounce back like that and put your teammates in jeopardy, that's going to cost you."
On the other side, Price simply answered, "No," when asked if he could understand why Ortiz was personally upset with him. Then asked if the ALDS exchange had anything to do with it, he replied, "Nope." And when asked if there was any intent behind the pitch, he explained that with six lefties in the Boston lineup he was simply trying to establish his fastball inside.
Had Price acknowledged doing anything intentionally, he would've opened himself up to a suspension - even if he wasn't ejected from the game. But it wasn't difficult to read between the lines of his postgame comments.
Knowing the history between the teams, and what had happened just five days earlier, he said he was surprised the umpires didn't warn the teams before the game about throwing at batters, an admission that gives the appearance he knew he was essentially taking a free shot by nailing Ortiz.
Then Price was effusive in his contrition about later hitting Mike Carp. He said he "absolutely" gets why Carp was angry, because it's the third time he has hit the first baseman, and the lefty even gave him a head nod before their next encounter "to let him know, 'my bad.'?"
Price never apologized for hitting Ortiz - though he did anticipate that the dislike between the teams would flare again. "I'm sure it will," he said.
Of course it will, because the Rays have all but officially supplanted the Yankees as the Red Sox' chief rival at this point, their feud full of the sizzle and passion that's gone absent between Boston and New York, fueled by what seems to be some genuine dislike on both sides, that contempt bred by the familiarity of playing in the same division, and furthered by their proximity in the standings.
This year that's at the bottom (for now at least), but that hasn't cooled things, on or off the field. The Sox forced the Rays to play a doubleheader when they didn't want to earlier this season, and the Rays griped about a special exemption allowing the Sox to do so. Before Friday's game, the Fenway PA system played kids music during the Rays' batting practice. Maddon has a way of tweaking the Sox, and their 102-year-old ballpark, on Twitter.
"There's a lot of pent up emotion, over the last several years, not just (last weekend), nor just (Friday)," said the Tampa Bay manager. "That's the way it is when you play each other that many times in a season, plus spring training games, too. You're going to have that. That's just a part of it. You have to somewhat expect that - but I still think there's a lot of respect flowing back and forth."
At around 10 this morning, that might actually be true. But don't bank on it lasting through the afternoon - let alone through October.
STAT OF THE WEEK: After his third straight three-hit game, Xander Bogaerts entered Saturday with 2.0 offensive wins above replacement, according to the Baseball-Reference.com tabulation - good for eighth in the American League, and tied with two-time reigning AL MVP Miguel Cabrera. Hitting .304 with a .393 on-base percentage (fourth in the AL) through Friday, the 21-year-old rookie could have a case for a spot on the AL All-Star team if he keeps it up.
Dave D'Onofrio covers the Red Sox for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is email@example.com.