ALDS Game 1: Rays at Red Sox - And so it begins

Ben Whitehead
Contributing Writer

My, oh my, how things can change ever so quickly in just one year. In fact, this year has been so good, that it’s like you’ve forgotten that one year ago today, Bobby Valentine was relieved of his duties as manager of the Boston Red Sox.

Today is a new day. Today, the 2013 Red Sox open the Postseason as the best team in the American League. And you can bet your bottom dollar that the Fenway Faithful will be out in full force.

With the Tampa Bay Rays in town as the Wild Card winner, Boston must face an AL East foe in the ALDS for the first time. Many expect this series to be the best of all the Division Series, considering the teams, the matchups and rivalry that exists between the two clubs.

The last time these two teams met in the postseason (2008), Tampa Bay won a seven-game thriller in the ALCS to advance to the World Series. Earlier this year, the Rays and Red Sox had a bit of a Twitter war, stemmed by the Rays (@RaysBaseball) tweeting that the Red Sox scoreboard operator should change the standings on the Green Monster – because the Rays had taken over first place. Not long after, the Sox reassumed the top spot and never looked back. Boston’s twitter account (@RedSox) replied with a tweet letting Tampa Bay know it looked forward to the home games Boston would have in TAMPA later in the year – a shot at the Rays home crowd being pro-Red Sox every time Boston is in town.

Ah, nothing like a little electronic ribbing. We can’t imagine what this series may hold on the Twitterverse.

Jon Lester set the tone for the Red Sox season when he got the start on Opening Day in Yankee Stadium. Lester pitched five innings and allowed two runs on five hits with seven strikeouts in an 8-2 Red Sox win. The Sox would not drop to .500 the rest of the season and finished tied for the best record in all of baseball (97-65; same as the Cardinals).

Lester now gets a chance to set the tone for the Postseason, as he has been given the nod for Game 1. The ace left-hander went 15-8 with a 3.75 this season, but had three separate streaks. He began the season 6-0 with a 2.72 ERA, struggled in the middle, going 2-6 and raising his ERA to 4.58 prior to the All-Star Break before finishing strong. Since the break, Lester is 7-2 with a 2.57 ERA, earning the right to be the Game 1 starter in the ALDS.

Lester went 2-1 against the Rays this season in four starts. He allowed two runs or less in three of those starts, including both starts at Fenway Park. In the Postseason, Lester is 0-2 against Tampa Bay in the playoffs, both games in the ’08 ALCS. He has lost his last three Postseason starts, but has not allowed more than four runs in his Postseason career (eight appearances, six starts).

Without further ado, here is the Red Sox lineup for Game 1 of the ALDS (first pitch – 3:07 pm EDT; TV – TBS):

1. Ellsbury, CF
2. Victorino, RF
3. Pedroia, 2B
4. Ortiz, DH
5. Napoli, 1B
6. Gomes, LF
7. Saltalamacchia, C
8. Drew, SS
9. Middlebrooks, 3B

Lester, P

Left-hander Matt Moore will start for the Rays. Moore went 17-4 with a 3.29 ERA this season and 2-0 against Boston, including a complete-game shutout in July at Fenway. Moore is 1-1 in his Postseason career with both games in 2011 against the Rangers. Moore started Game 1 of the ALDS and went seven innings of two-hit, no-run ball in picking up the win in his playoff debut.

Four score and….OK, just four years ago
Has it really been four years since the Red Sox were last in the playoffs? Yes, it has. In 2009, the downward spiral of the Terry Francona years began by being swept by the Angels in three games. The Sox missed out on 2010 before acquiring Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez prior to 2011. That season, the Sox were the best team in baseball up until a 7-20 September that ultimately led to Francona “quitting.” The 2012 season bears repeating, thus, here we are as the team that went from worst to first.

.500 the key mark
Tampa Bay played 97 games in the regular season against teams .500 or better and the Rays went 48-49 in those games. That record wasn’t quite as good until the Rays won eight such games in a row to close out the season. With their Wild Card win at Cleveland, that makes nine in a row and an even 49-49 record.

Red Sox in the Postseason
Boston boasts a 43-31 all-time record in postseason games at home, including 41-29 at Fenway. The record is even better since 2003, as the Sox are 17-9 since that time. And in ALDS games at home, Boston is 8-6 (8-3 since 1999).

Last chance for Ortiz?
Given that the Sox are the in Postseason this year and there are no guarantees for 2014, this could be David Ortiz’ final chance at a World Series title. Big Papi is the lone Red Sox player from the 2004 World Championship team and one of three from the ‘07 title team (Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury). John Farrell’s first season as pitching coach for the Red Sox was also 2007.

This and that
Tampa Bay is playing in its fourth city in six days. The Rays finished a three-game series Sunday in Toronto to cap the regular season, traveled to Texas to face the Rangers in Game 163 Monday, went to Cleveland for the Wild Card game Wednesday and are now in Boston for the ALDS…Ortiz ranks second behind Carlos Beltran among players in the 2013 Postseason in home runs in the playoffs. Beltran hit his 15th in Game 1 of the NLDS Thursday. Ortiz has 12 career postseason homers...The Red Sox went 12-7 against the Rays this season. Boston went 9-2 to start, but finished 3-5. However, the Sox won two-of-three at The Trop to close out the series from Sept. 10-12.

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