The Tampa Bay Rays enjoyed a 10-8 edge against the Red Sox during the regular season, including a 8-1 clip at Tropicana Field.
But as the Red Sox showed against the Los Anaheim Angels in the first round, the regular season don't necessarily mean squawwwt come playoff time.
The Bostons took back home-field advantage in the ALCS thanks to a 2-0 victory in Game 1 at the Trop, with the Rays appearing to show some jitters for the first time in a long time. Here's a few thoughts from the game:
Rolling: Dice-K put up phat numbers (18-3, 2.90 ERA) in the regular season and had 200 Ks in '07, but this was the first time I ever remember him doing anything worth a darn in a game that mattered this much. After he walked the bases loaded in the first, Matsuzaka was spectacular, taking a no-no into the seventh, and finishing with 9 Ks over seven IP. Hideki Okajima was shaky in the eighth, but Jonathan Papelbon went an easy 1-2-3 in the ninth.
Flailing: The game had the look of a neo-classic Rays comeback, but the Sawx just wouldn't let 'em. Or maybe it was a little jumpiness by the home team. T-St. P put the first two men on base in the seventh (Carl Crawford broke up the no-hitter and Cliff Floyd followed with a gapper to put runners at the corners) but they were stranded. T-St. P did likewise in the eighth (singles by Akinori Iwamura and Bossman J. Upton) but Carlos Pena flied out weakly on a 3-0 pitch and Evan Longoria finished a poor at-bat with a weak double play grounder.
Efficiency experts: Boston, meanwhile manufactured a 1-0 lead in the fifth. Jed Lowrie (who apparently ain't been around long enough to merit a mugshot on Yahoo GameChannel) brought home JayBay on a sac fly. In the eighth, Yook doubled in Pedroia — on a ball Crawford should have caught/usually catches — for insurance. That's all they got. It was all they needed. That's why they're world champs, folks.
Fright night: If you watched the game on DirecTV, you saw a recurring commercial for "Friday Night Lights," the TV series about high school football in West Texas. Except the commercial, I swear, should have been for the stylish new HBO show about vampires, or the old one about the traveling carnival from hell. There was ne'er a football thrown in the spot. And it looked like they all wanted to suck some blood. WTH(eck)?
Kitchen: Grant Balfour went up and in and hit brittle J.D. Drew with a pitch in the eighth, and the announcers speculated a little bit about bad blood still left over from the regular-season pugilism between the two clubs. However, Balfour looked spooked by the HBP and emotions never boiled over.
Menu: Josh Beckett has a chance to put the Rays in a big ol' hole in Game 2 with what would be his first strong performance in a long time. Conversely, Scott Kazmir has been struggling with command and confidence. Not a good combo for the ALCS.