Extra Bases

Red Sox and Rays Rivalry Leaves Us Wanting More

Nobody should want the Red Sox and Rays series to end. It's simply too delicious. Barry Chin / Globe Staff

Why does it have to end? Can’t the Rays just stay a little longer?

The Red Sox, who this season have developed the act of streaking into an art form, will now hit the road for nine games beginning with a three-game set against old buddy Terry Francona and his Cleveland Indians. But as nice as it will be to see Tito, the defending AL Manager of the Year/greatest manager in Sox history, wouldn’t it be so much better if the Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays could just keep playing each other?

The Rays played a major role in both the Sox 10-game losing streak and their ongoing seven-game winning streak (which, by the way, is tied for the longest by a team that’s lost at least 10 straight in the same season in baseball history) and man, was it all a treat.

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Bench-clearing incidents, mind-boggling defensive lapses, big blown leads, beanball exchanges, mass ejections, perfectly placed clutch hits, unsung heroes, out-of-nowhere pitching performances, horrendous umpiring, managers seemingly auditioning for their own primetime TV shows, wars of words, opposing pitchers taking exception to idioms or other figures of speech involving the word “war,” and much, much more. If you’ve followed the past several games between these AL East rivals going back to last year’s American League Division Series, you’ve pretty much seen it all.

When the Sox dropped an 8-5 decision to the Rays in Tampa last Sunday to run their losing streak to 10, the game was dotted by Rays shortstop Yunel Escobar pointing at and provoking the Sox dugout into a bench-emptying dustup following a late game steal of third base with a sizable lead. The Sox going off at Escobar inflamed the litany of loud voices eager to pile on the defending champs as their season looked as though it was swirling down the drain. But whether you thought David Ross, Jonny Gomes, et al., were out of line that day or not, the tactic worked. The Sox haven’t lost since and maybe they have the Rays to thank for that.

That skirmish came on the heels of two supremely entertaining games, a 1-0 loss that wasted a tremendous pitching effort by John Lackey, and a 6-5 defeat in 15 innings in which the Sox scored five times in the first then didn’t score for the next 14 frames, advancing just one base runner past second base during that stretch. None of those games were terribly fun for Sox fans but given how chock full of crazy, “are you kidding me?” moments each of them featured, this weekend’s visit from the Rays instantly became must-see TV even before the Sox reversed their fortunes by sweeping four games from the Atlanta Braves in a home-and-home series earlier in the week.

Predictably, this matchup didn’t disappoint. The Sox came from behind to win 3-2 in 10 innings on Friday night despite losing manager John Farrell, two acting managers and their starting pitcher while the Rays skated thanks to a gutless display of incompetence from the umpiring crew in response to multiple hit batsmen by Rays pitchers. Saturday night’s national TV broadcast featured the coming out party of right hander Rubby De La Rosa, who shined along with super utility man Brock Holt (first career homer) and center fielder Jackie Bradley, Jr. in a 7-1 win despite FOX doing everything but cast insufferable Rays manager Joe Maddon in his own variety show during an in-game interview to upstage them (and while we’re here, how much longer are people going to lap up Maddon’s smartest guy in the room act? He cast himself in that role nine years ago and perpetuates it with his constant shifting and needless on-field maneuvering alongside all the mariachi bands and cologne samplers in the clubhouse, yet the amount of folks who still fawn over him while practically declaring him the inventor of the sport remains staggeringly high).

It all culminated with a 4-0, Sunday afternoon masterpiece by Jon Lester, who struck out 12 Rays over seven innings while aided by Holt’s 4 for 4, four double afternoon, making him the first player to accomplish that since Victor Martinez, then a member of the Sox, in 2010. Even super prospect Garin Cecchini and Milton native/former BC High standout Alex Hassan contributed, each registering his first career hit. That these events unfolded against the Rays made them all even cooler.

The bad blood between the teams over the years has been well documented and although they are mired in last place this season, the Rays ascension to consistent, American League contenders since 2008 adds plenty of fuel to the fire. The baseball season is so long and can feel a bit tedious from time to time as it wears on. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could have ourselves some more Sox/Rays action and adventure? Summer is blockbuster season and blockbusters are all these two teams seem to produce.

The Sox and Rays won’t see each other again until Aug. 29, when they open up a four-game, wraparound series at Tropicana Field over Labor Day weekend. That’s not soon enough.

Forget Sox-Yankees, Cardinals-Cubs or Giants-Dodgers. At this moment, Sox-Rays beats them all for the title of best rivalry in baseball.