Give the schedule-makers some credit.
Who would have thought a Tampa Bay-Boston series at the end of June going into July would have major impact for both clubs?
The Rays enter the three game series on Monday in first place in the American League East, a half-game ahead of the Red Sox.
In fact, Tampa Bay is the best team in baseball, owning a 49-32 mark after completing its first 81 games of the season, which is the equivalent of the first half.
Yes, Boston has 50 wins already (due to having played more games), but Tampa Bay is ahead of the Sox and owns baseball's best winning percentage.
On Saturday night, the Rays were behind Boston in the standings, and had a shot to move past the Red Sox.
Boston had lost 11-10 in Houston after blowing 4-0 and 9-6 leads, and the Rays and Pirates were heading to extra innings after Tampa Bay rallied in the eighth.
With a chance to move into first place, the Rays instead fell victim to Jason Bay's walk-off homer in the 13th, giving Pittsburgh the victory.
A loss like that might have been demoralizing, especially for a young team that has never won more than 70 games a season, but the Rays regrouped Sunday—while the veteran Red Sox could not.
Even ace Josh Beckett couldn't save Boston, which gave up the winning run in the eighth inning for the second straight game.
Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, the Rays received contributions from battery mates, both of whom struggled last season (along with the rest of the team).
Andy Sonnanstine gave the Rays seven strong innings on Sunday to pick up his ninth win (against three losses), and backup catcher Shawn Riggans swatted a home run and had three hits including a clutch RBI-single in the eighth, as Tampa Bay beat Pittsburgh 4-3.
Sonnanstine is an incredible 6-0 after a Tampa Bay loss.
Monday, the Red Sox and Rays will begin their series at Tropicana Field.
The Red Sox have won six straight against the Rays, all at Fenway Park.
Of course, the Rays swept the Sox in St. Petersburg in April, so home field has been critical in every game between the two rivals so far.
Regardless, this will be a good test for Tampa Bay as the second half begins for the surprising AL East leaders.
Can the Rays hang on?
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!