The Rays pull into Fenway today for a three-games-in-two-days series against the Red Sox for the latest chapter in one of baseball’s most heated rivalries. When these teams met last week in St. Petersburg the benches cleared after John Lackey drilled Matt Joyce in the back with a pitch, coming on the heels of an earlier incident when Joyce stared at a long foul ball as if it were a home run, irking Lackey and the Red Sox. That was just the latest incident of acrimony between teams with a long history of aiming at each other.
These division rivals have made a habit of impromptu congregations on the field since the then-Devil Rays entered the AL in 1998, mainly due to batters getting hit by pitches. If it seems like these teams have targeted each other constantly with the baseball, they have. Starting that first year for baseball in Tampa Bay, there have been 250 hit batsmen in the 268 meetings in the lifetime series, with Red Sox batters plunked 127 times and Rays hitters feeling the sting another 123. The only matchup in baseball with more hit-batters over that span is the granddaddy rivalry of them all, the Yankees-Red Sox, which has produced a bruise-inducing 267 free passes via ball-to-body contact (154 Yankees hit, 113 Red Sox).
The root cause of the conflict lies in the fact that both of these teams regularly hit a lot of batters, regardless of rivalry status, so there’s bound to be fireworks when these two intimidators meet. Since 1998 they are the only two teams to hit more than a thousand batters from the mound, the Red Sox leading with 1,095 and the Rays safely in second at 1,036. A vast majority of their opponents however don’t react with malice, as Boston batters have been hit the 10th most times since ‘98 (913) and the perennial underdog or overachieving Rays come in 13th (867).
The top three victims on the Rays side of the BOS-TB rivalry — Carl Crawford (8), Jonny Gomes (7), Carlos Peña (6) — have not only each played for the Red Sox, they were all quite disappointing in their stints (although the jury is still out on Gomes who enters today’s doubleheader with a slash line of .208/.329/.352), Peña’s Boston experience coming before his time in Florida while Crawford and Gomes came after.
The Rays’ favorite targets in the batters box were the heart and soul of the Sox success with Manny Ramirez and Kevin Youkilis each drilled 11 times, while Nomar Garciaparra, Dustin Pedroia and Jason Varitek getting the message eight times each. Perhaps as a testament to his congeniality, (or more likely the fear that he’s charge the mound) David Ortiz has only been drilled by a Rays hurler three times in 11 seasons.
On the hill, Tim Wakefield (13, also the major league leader over the span with 139 hit batters) and Pedro Martinez (10) account for nearly 20% of the damage inflicted on Tampa Bay while the current quartet of Jon Lester (6), John Lackey (4), Alfredo Aceves (3) and Franklin Morales (3) make up another 12.6%.
Former Rays ace Scott Kazmir, now of the Indians, hit nine Sox during his Tampa Bay career while former Sox lefty, Casey Fossum, was next with seven of his former mates feeling the pain. However Fossum’s HBPs brought much more of a message, coming in just 44 ⅓ innings over 10 appearances. Among current Rays only 2012 Cy Young Award winner David Price (5) has hit more than two Boston batters.
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He has also authored or made contributions to many books, including the Sports Illustrateds 100 Fenway: A Fascinating First Century.
Now living in Marblehead, hes focusing his attention on the Boston sports scene, specifically delving into the numbers affecting the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins, with the goal of informing and entertaining real fans. You can follow him on Twitter at @SabinoSports.