Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox
*Red Sox: CF Jacoby Ellsbury (.280, 9 HRs, 47 RBIs, 50 SB, 18-game hitting streak ending season), 2B Dustin Pedroia (.326, 17, 83, 213 H, 118 R, 54 2B, 20 SB), DH David Ortiz (.264, 23, 89), 3B Kevin Youkilis (.312, 29, 115), RF J.D. Drew (.280, 19, 64), LF Jason Bay (.293, 9, 37 in 49 games with Red Sox after July 31 trade from Pittsburgh; .286, 31, 101 overall), 1B Mark Kotsay (.226, 0, 12 in 84 at-bats with Red Sox after Aug. 27 trade from Atlanta; .276, 6, 49 overall), SS Jed Lowrie (.258, 2, 46), C Jason Varitek (.220, 13, 43).
*Rays: 2B Akinori Iwamura (.274, 6, 48), CF B.J. Upton (.273, 9, 67), 1B Carlos Pena (.247, 31, 102), 3B Evan Longoria (.272, 27, 85), LF Carl Crawford (.273, 8, 57), DH Cliff Floyd (.268, 11, 39), C Dioner Navarro (.295, 7, 54), RF Gabe Gross (.242, 13, 38), SS Jason Bartlett (.286, 1, 37).
*Red Sox: RH Daisuke Matsuzaka (18-3, 2.90 ERA), RH Josh Beckett (12-10, 4.03), LH Jon Lester (16-6, 3.21), RH Tim Wakefield (10-11, 4.13).
*Rays: RH James Shields (14-8, 3.56), LH Scott Kazmir (12-8, 3.49), RH Matt Garza (11-9, 3.70), RH Andy Sonnanstine (13-9, 4.38).
*Red Sox: RH Jonathan Papelbon (5-4, 2.34, 4 0/4 5 saves), LH Hideki Okajima (3-2, 2.61), RH Justin Masterson (6-5, 3.16), RH Manny Delcarmen (1-2, 3.27), LH Javier Lopez (2-0, 2.43), RH Paul Byrd (11-12, 4.60).
*Rays: RH Grant Balfour (6-2, 1.54, 82 strikeouts in 58 1/3 innings), LH J.P. Howell (6-1, 2.22), RH Dan Wheeler (5-6, 3.12, 1 3/1 8 saves), LH Trever Miller (2-0, 4.15), RH Chad Bradford (4-3, 2.12), LH David Price (0-0, 1.93).
In the heat of a tight pennant race, Tampa Bay took four of six from Boston during September and won the AL East by two games over the Red Sox. The gritty Rays took two of three at Fenway Park from Sept. 8-10, rallying in the ninth to beat Papelbon in the middle game and then winning the series finale in 14 innings the next night on Pena's three-run homer. . . . These teams definitely don't like each other. They had a nasty brawl June 5 at Fenway Park after Shields hit Coco Crisp on the hip with a pitch, the latest in a half-dozen dust-ups between the clubs this decade. . . . Tampa Bay was second in the AL with a 3.82 ERA, while Boston ranked fourth at 4.01. The Red Sox scored 845 runs to Tampa Bay's 774. The Rays hit 180 homers to Boston's 173. . . . The Red Sox will be without 3B Mike Lowell in this series. The 2007 World Series MVP has an injured hip. That means Youkilis, a Gold Glove first baseman, likely moves to third and Kotsay, normally an outfielder, probably sees time at first. . . . Drew was 12 for 37 (.324) with seven extra-base hits and eight RBIs against Tampa Bay this season. Ellsbury stole six bases, and Ortiz went 9 for 37 (.243) with three homers, four doubles and 11 RBIs. Bay was 4 for 17 (.235) with three homers. Youkilis had a team-high 14 RBIs, though he batted only .232. Varitek hit .167 in 54 at-bats. . . . Lester was 3-0 with a 0.90 ERA in three starts against the Rays. He struck out 19 in 20 innings. Beckett went 2-1 with a 2.06 ERA in five starts. He fanned 37 in 35 innings. Matsuzaka had a 3.00 ERA in three starts. Okajima (6 2/3 innings) and Lopez (8 2/3 innings) did not allow an earned run in 15 combined appearances. Delcarmen (5.59 ERA) and Masterson (5.65 ERA) struggled against Tampa Bay. Wakefield, a knuckleballer, was 0-2 with a 5.87 ERA in three starts. . . . Iwamura batted .319 with four homers and 10 runs against Boston this season. Pena hit .314 with four homers and 12 RBIs. Willy Aybar was 12 for 29 (.414) with five RBIs. Gross had three homers and a .204 average in 49 at-bats. Navarro hit .190 with one extra-base hit and 15 strikeouts in 63 at-bats. Upton was 5 for 39 (.128) with 12 Ks and Floyd went 3 for 24 (.125). . . . Sonnanstine did not allow an earned run in 13 innings against the Red Sox. He struck out 12. Balfour had a 1.74 ERA in 10 1/3 innings. Kazmir was 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA in four starts. He walked 14 batters and served up six homers in 18 innings. . . . Upbeat Rays manager Joe Maddon likes to use his bench. In the division series, he gave starts to Aybar, Rocco Baldelli and Fernando Perez. . . . Crawford is back from a finger injury and his speed puts pressure on opposing defenses. He had 25 of Tampa Bay's major league-best 142 stolen bases this season, then added three more in the division series against Chicago.
*Red Sox: In the ALCS for the fourth time since 2003, Boston is looking for its second consecutive World Series title and third in five years. Quite a run of success after 86 years without a championship. . . . The wild card Red Sox (95-67) dispatched the 100-win Los Angeles Angels, 3-1, in the best-of-five division series after losing the final eight of their nine regular-season meetings. That's a good omen for Boston, which won World Series crowns in 2004 and '07 after sweeping the Angels in the first round of the playoffs. . . . Now missing Lowell, Ramirez and Curt Schilling, these Red Sox reached the ALCS behind a new breed that includes Bay, Lowrie and Lester. Playing in his first postseason, Bay was 7 for 17 (.412) against the Angels with two homers, two doubles and five RBIs. He scored the series-winning run on a ninth-inning single by Lowrie, a rookie who went 4 for 11 (.364). Lester pitched 14 innings without allowing an earned run and struck out 11. A cancer survivor, he also won the 2007 World Series clincher against Colorado. . . . Papelbon fanned seven in five scoreless innings, earning a win and a save. Ellsbury led the team with six RBIs. Ortiz, Youkilis, Varitek and Pedroia (1 for 17) struggled at the plate. . . . A proven star in the postseason, Beckett was pushed back to Game Three against Los Angeles after hurting a muscle in his side during a bullpen session. He lasted only five innings, allowing four runs, nine hits and four walks. Beckett is 6-2 with a 2.09 ERA and three complete games in 11 postseason starts. He has 88 strikeouts in 77 2/3 innings.
*Rays: A doormat since the team's inception in 1998, Tampa Bay had never won more than 70 games in a season before this year. But the young, athletic Rays (97-65) were baseball's biggest surprise in 2008, staying in contention for the best record in the majors until the final weekend. Then, they eliminated the AL Central champion Chicago White Sox, 3-1, in the division series. . . . Upton hit three homers and a triple in the first round. Navarro was 6 for 15 (.400) with three doubles and three RBIs. Pena went 5 for 10 with two RBIs. The front-runner for AL Rookie of the Year, Longoria homered in his first two postseason at-bats. Howell, Balfour and Bradford combined for 10 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing five hits and striking out 12. . . . The Rays joined the 1991 Braves as the only teams to make the playoffs a year after finishing with the worst record in the majors. They are the second AL team, 11th overall, to earn a postseason berth a year after finishing in last place. The 1991 Twins were the other AL team. . . . While emerging stars such as Longoria, Crawford, Kazmir and Upton are playoff newcomers, the Rays have eight players with postseason experience prior to this year: Floyd, Bartlett, Balfour, Eric Hinske, Miller, Percival, Wheeler and Bradford.
*Boston Medical Group. Lowell is out, Drew has been hurting and Beckett labored through his first-round start. These Red Sox play their best ball in October, but they're not at full strength. Can they keep up with the energetic Rays in a long series?
*Tricks at the Trop. Tropicana Field, with its catwalks and artificial turf, is hosting playoff games for the first time this year. Tampa Bay has prospered in the wacky dome, compiling the best home record (57-24) in the majors during the regular season and then winning both home games against Chicago in the first round. A tricky bounce or two could turn the series.