Battle For First Place: Sox, Rays open up three-game set

Evan BrunellFeatured ColumnistSeptember 15, 2008

Sure, if all breaks right this upcoming series at the Trop, the Red Sox could find themselves in first place with an opportunity to finish first two straight years since 1915-1916.

Yes, it’s been that long since the Red Sox could lay claim to first place two years in a row and if they can improbably pull it off this year, it will only be the third time in the history of the Red Sox, the first accomplishment coming in 1903 and 1904.

Clearly, history is not on our side as we head into the second set of crucial games against the upstart Tampa Bay Rays. Once we’re done with the Rays we have to contend with the Jays yet again before we finish off the schedule with relatively easy jaunts with Cleveland and New York (remember back when we thought those would be tooth-and-nail dogfights?).

The Rays have also added a weapon that the Sox will have to contend against (most notably David Ortiz) in pitching phenom David Price, who dominated all three levels of the minor leagues before debuting yesterday against the New York Yankees as a reliever. Price, who should have a long and fruitful All-Star career as a starter, is looking to channel 2002 Francisco Rodriguez and 2007 Joba Chamberlain to give the Rays one last kick to the finish line.

Oh, and Evan Longoria will be back at the hot corner, too.

Is it too much to ask the Sox to win two of three or sweep the trio of games at a stadium where we have yet to win this year? Well, keep in mind that many felt it was out of the Rays’ grasp to do just that last week, but they exorcised their personal Fenway demons by taking advantage of a fastball-happy Jonathan Papelbon and a curious penchant for our sluggers to leave men on base.

The pitching matchup in this series doesn’t tilt appreciably to one team, but it does give the Sox a very good chance at winning each game. The Gun from the Rising Sun, Daisuke Matsuzaka, will toe the hill against Sox-killer Scott Kazmir. Fact: Dice-K has a lower ERA by .02 points.

The middle game has Josh Beckett, rounding into his prime just in time for the morbidly depressing soggy fall extending its tentacles into Boston. (Yes, I’m bitter.) He’ll be opposed by Andy Sonnastine, and theoretically, this should be the easiest game to win vis-à-vis pitching matchups.

The last matchup has Tim Wakefield and his fluttering knuckleball going up against Matt Garza. This is the game I’m most fascinated about. We all know how Tim Wakefield completely befuddles the Rays in the Trop, so it will be interesting to see if that trend continues. Garza, on the other hand, is a special flamethrower who has dominated at home and looks to be rounding into the right-handed version of Scott Kazmir. I don’t want to face him. But we’ll have to. And we’ll beat him… right? RIGHT!?