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These teams might just go down fighting

October 09, 2008|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

BOSTON -- It will take a few more decades of animosity for Tampa Bay-Boston to approach the heated baseball rivalry that is Boston-New York, but considering the contempt the teams have shown for each other, it's not a bad undercard.

The Red Sox will open the American League Championship Series on Friday night against the Rays at Tropicana Field, and the guy staring in from the mound for Tampa Bay -- right-hander James Shields -- is sure to stir emotions for the Red Sox.

Shields hit Boston outfielder Coco Crisp in the hip with a pitch on June 5 in Fenway Park, triggering a benches-clearing brawl that was a culmination of hostilities that began the night before, when Rays Manager Joe Maddon accused Crisp of "intentionally" trying to hurt second baseman Akinori Iwamura with a hard slide.

Crisp's slide came two innings after he felt Tampa Bay shortstop Jason Bartlett blocked the bag with his leg on a stolen base attempt, causing Crisp to injure his thumb.

Shields retaliated the next night, and video of the ensuing brawl, in which Crisp charged the mound and avoided Shields' round-house right with a lean-back move straight out of "The Matrix," will probably be replayed endlessly in the lead-up to the series.

"This isn't over," Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon said after the incident. The right-hander was asked before Wednesday's workout in Fenway Park if it was over between the Red Sox and Rays.

"I don't know," Papelbon said. "There could be something that stirs it right back up. You know how these things linger all year long."

Have the issues between the teams been resolved?

"I don't know, anything can happen with any team," Crisp said.

"We had an altercation with the Rays, and the playoffs are a little more intense, so if something were to happen, maybe somebody would take something wrong, but I doubt it."

Crisp said he doesn't hold grudges.

"I've gotten into arguments, altercations, with my close friends, and we're still close friends," he said. "It just so happens this one was televised."

Dome sweet dome

The Rays won the season series against the Red Sox, 10-8, and went 8-1 against Boston at home, so the fact they have home-field advantage in this series could be important. Tampa Bay went 2-7 at Fenway.

Tropicana Field wasn't the only domed stadium in which Boston struggled. The Red Sox went 1-3 at Minnesota and 4-5 at Toronto for a 6-16 record on artificial turf.

"I used to think it was fairly obvious," Manager Terry Francona said, when asked why Boston has had difficulty in domes. "When we were slower and we would get on turf against teams that could run, and we couldn't, we were at a disadvantage.

"I don't feel that way anymore. We're built differently, but our record is not very good. I'm hoping that's going to change."

Rotations aligned

Shields, who won his division series start against the Chicago White Sox, will oppose right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka in Game 1.

Boston right-hander Josh Beckett, who struggled in his return from a rib-cage strain against the Angels on Sunday, will oppose left-hander Scott Kazmir in Game 2 on Saturday.

Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester, who did not give up an earned run in 14 division series innings against the Angels, will oppose right-hander Matt Garza in Game 3 on Monday at Fenway Park.

Francona chose Tim Wakefield as his Game 4 starter over Paul Byrd, and the knuckleball-throwing right-hander will oppose right-hander Andy Sonnanstine on Tuesday at Fenway.

Closing time

The Rays and Red Sox have outstanding rotations and deep and versatile bullpens, but if there is one player who could give Boston a slight pitching advantage, it is Papelbon, who in 19 2/3 career playoff innings has not given up a run.

Papelbon, whose fastball consistently hits 98 mph, has given up nine hits, struck out 16 and walked five in the postseason.

"I don't know about other guys, but me? I love pressure," Papelbon said.

"When I get in those pressure situations, it gets me going. That's my comfort zone. If it wasn't, I wouldn't be in this job."


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