So, why is Red Sox Nation so shocked? What we saw over the past two nights is a team playing like the defending American League champs. A team that has pitching, offense and speed. A team that knows how to win when the games matter most.
In the immortal words of Dennis Green, "They are who we thought they were!"
And so, the horse race tightens, and we're not even coming down the home stretch just yet.
The Rays have now won eight of 12 games against the Red Sox this season and are nipping at the heels of the Sox in the wild card race, just three games back.
Over the past two nights at Tropicana Field, we were shown why the 2008 Rays were no fluke. Last October, Matt Garza and David Price combined to hold the Red Sox to just three hits in Game 7 of the ALCS. In this series, they combined to limit the Sox to nine hits and four runs over 13 innings of work.
Tuesday night's 13-inning win for the Rays was the type of walk-off victory that stirs the soul of a franchise and its fans. With nothing going on against Jon Lester for six innings, Tampa Bay rocked the Sox bullpen — the group of pitchers with the best relief ERA in baseball — for four runs and a victory.
Wednesday night, Carlos Pena and Carl Crawford hit two-run home runs off Brad Penny to jump out to an early lead through three innings. Price made it tough for the Red Sox to come back.
Now, it's off to New York. The Yankees swept their two games in Toronto and open up the series 2 1/2 games ahead of the Sox. They will be facing one another for the first time since June 11, when the Sox finished off a three-game sweep of New York at Fenway, outscoring the Yanks 17-8.
New Yorkers have been counting down the days until the two teams could meet again. The Yanks have been on a tear, winning 14 of their last 19 games.
How good have the Yankees been? They are in first place despite going 0-8 against Boston this season. Think about that for a moment. If they had won two of those eight games, they would be 6 1/2 games up.
The AL East is baseball's toughest division, as expected. Just ask Joe Maddon. His Rays have gone 38-20 over the past 58 games and have picked up just one game in the division standings. They have, however, picked up two games in the wild card race. A race that looks like it'll come down to the wire.
Did you really expect anything less?
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