After sweeping another series in Kissimmee, Fla., the Tampa Bay Rays may wish they didn’t have to return to Tropicana Field.
It likely won’t help that their first game back will be against a pitcher who feels right at home in St. Petersburg.
Tampa Bay will seek its fourth straight win on Friday in the opener of a three-game series against the Boston Red Sox, but knuckleballer Tim Wakefield will be looking for his 20th career victory against the Rays.
A three-game sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays this week pushed the Rays’ record to 6-0 all-time when they play their home games at Disney World, but their real home field has produced vastly different results.
The Rays (11-11) are just 4-7 this year at Tropicana Field, and the Red Sox took the first two games of all three of their series in St. Petersburg last year, as Wakefield won two series openers.
Wakefield (2-0, 3.96 ERA) is 19-3 in his career against the Rays, with more wins against them than any other pitcher. The Florida native won his first nine career decisions at Tampa Bay before losing his most recent start last September, but he still has a 2.41 ERA in 101 innings there, allowing just 71 hits.
The right-hander will hope to bring some stability back to Boston’s rotation after two minor-leaguers started games this week as the Red Sox (15-9) dropped two of three to the Los Angeles Angels. Both Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka were scratched due to injury and illness, and Jon Lester struggled on short rest.
Boston has also been without catcher Jason Varitek all week due to the flu, and backup Kevin Cash—Wakefield’s personal catcher and a Tampa native—will be in the lineup Friday. Matsuzaka won’t make the trip to St. Petersburg because of the illness.
“This has been pretty unique,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona told his team’s official Web site. “We’ve been doing some scrambling.”
In his major league debut, Justin Masterson allowed only two hits and one run in six innings on Thursday, but Boston’s bullpen gave up four runs in the seventh as the Red Sox lost 7-5.
Still, the Red Sox had won six straight before dropping their last two, Dustin Pedroia has a 13-game hitting streak and previously slumping David Ortiz now has 16 RBIs in his last seven games, hitting .370 over that span.
“He’s starting to look dangerous,” Francona said of Ortiz. “That’s good to see.”
The Rays were similarly formidable this week against Toronto, as all three of their starters earned wins, closer Troy Percival earned three saves and Carl Crawford led the offense with three consecutive multi-hit games.
Crawford has now hit safely in 11 straight games, hitting .404 with nine RBIs over that span.
Matt Garza will pitch Friday as the Rays look to extend their longest winning streak of the season. With a win, they would move over .500 at their latest point in a year since 1999.
Garza (0-0, 9.00) hasn’t pitched since April 8, spending time on the 15-day disabled list due to an irritated nerve in his right arm. He struggled in his first two starts with the Rays after coming over in a trade from Minnesota in the offseason, allowing eight runs in eight innings.
But the right-hander has won both of his starts against the Red Sox, allowing just three earned runs in 10 2-3 innings as a member of the Twins. He pitched against them on the final day of the regular season last year, giving up one unearned run in five innings.
The AL East rivals didn’t face off for the first time until July last year, but they’ll play six times in the next 10 days. The Red Sox won all six series against the Rays last year, finishing 13-5 against them.