Teams no longer circle the calendar and salivate at the thought of playing the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Coming off one of their best homestands in franchise history, the Devil Rays will look to continue playing spoiler when they open a four-game series with the AL East-leading Boston Red Sox.
Mark Hendrickson extended his personal winning streak to four games and Aubrey Huff hit a two-run homer to power Tampa Bay to a 2-1 win and a three-game sweep of the playoff-hopeful Los Angeles Angels on Sunday.
The Devil Rays finished their 13-game homestand with nine wins—a club record for any homestand—and improved to 27-15 since the All-Star break.
“This is our playoffs,” said Huff, who has 11 homers and 35 RBIs since the break. “We’re a good team right now. Confidence is high right now. Hopefully we can keep this team together and see what happens next year.”
Manager Lou Piniella said the Devil Rays are playing a lot better than a team that is 21 games below .500 and in last place.
“It’s good to see these young kids get better and rewarded,” Piniella said. “But what’s really fun is winning baseball games. That’s the fun.”
The Devil Rays have made it a habit this season of playing teams that may end up in the playoffs extremely tough. Tampa Bay is 9-4 against the New York Yankees, who currently lead the wild-card race, and is a combined 11-10 against AL Central-leading Chicago and West kingpins Los Angeles and Oakland.
“We have nothing to lose,” Huff said. “Play baseball and relax. The other team, as far as I’m concerned, has everything to lose.”
That would include the Red Sox, who have had their lead in the AL East over the Yankees trimmed to 1 1/2 games.
Boston has lost seven of 13, but is coming off an 11-3 win over Detroit which clinched the weekend series.
“We’ve got to play tremendous ball from here on out,” said David Wells, Sunday’s starter and winner. “Our starting pitching has to step up a little bit more.”
Boston has scored at least seven runs in 10 consecutive home games.