For whatever reason, the Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays are as inconsistent at home and away as anyone in baseball. The Sox are 47-21 at Fenway Park this season; the Rays, an abysmal team on the road, are 43-26 at Tropicana Field. This is nothing new — last year, the two teams were the class of the American League despite losing road records. The Sox were 56-25 at home; the Rays were 57-24.
Maybe it's the climate. Maybe it's the unusual field dimensions: Fenway has the Green Monster and the deep gaps; the Trop has the vast expanses of foul territory. Maybe it's just having the home fans on their side — though in Tampa Bay, that doesn't count for much.
Last week, the Rays hosted the Sox for a three-game set at the Trop. It was a rematch of last year's ALCS — two teams with recent postseason success looking to return to October. The AL wild card was on the line, and … did you see those seats? A lot of them were empty. For the series opener last Tuesday, the teams drew 17,692 fans, or a little less than half of Tropicana Field's capacity. That's right — two of the AL's heavyweights were battling in September for a trip to the playoffs, and the majority of the seats were empty. Even last year, when the Rays reached October, they had playoff games they couldn't sell out.
It's hardly an intense, pressure-packed atmosphere. The Rays are a lively, entertaining, dynamic team — and the people of Central Florida aren't noticing. One year, they've got the pitching and defense to carry them to the World Series; the next, they've got the sluggers to take the AL by storm. Promising stories are being written all over Tropicana Field, but to a relatively empty house.
That's not how it works in Boston.
After last week, when the Sox took two out of three in Tampa Bay, the two teams collide again, this time at friendly Fenway. But with the pennant race heating up, it might not be too friendly. The Sox are fighting for their wild-card lives, and they'll send Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz to the mound for their biggest series yet.
You think these games will sell out?
Easy question. At Fenway, they always do.
This Sunday will be the 540th consecutive sellout at Fenway Park. The Red Sox are the most beloved baseball team in America, and that's never more evident than it is in the midst of a pennant race.
What you can expect from this series is an October atmosphere for a September weekend. Every pitch, every out, every run — you can expect the fans at Fenway to hold their collective breath.
This is how baseball was meant to be.
The Red Sox are a collection of guys dying to win a ring. Some are young and inexperienced, still waiting for a taste of October. Others are veterans dying to finally win. Still others are Red Sox long-timers, nostalgic for the titles of 2004 and '07. All of these players, for one reason or another, want to win.
Their fans do too.
That's what makes Boston different from Tampa Bay — or, for that matter, from any other city in America. These fans care passionately about baseball, and they'll show up through thick and thin to prove it. In Tampa? Not quite the same.
These two teams have always had a bit of a rivalry. From the good old days when Pedro Martinez would start bench-clearing brawls at the Trop to the present, when the two teams are eyeing potential returns to the ALCS, there's always been a bit of an edge between Boston and Tampa Bay.
In September, in front of a strong Fenway Park contingent, that edge will rise to the next level. As well it should.
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