Boston Red Sox vs Tampa Bay Rays MLB Rivalry

Boston Red Sox vs Tampa Bay Rays Rivalry

Baseball is a sport filled with historic rivalries, some of which have been growing for over a century. However, not every great rivalry in Major League Baseball has an extensive history. The Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox have been division rivals since just 1998, but there have been many key moments in the rivalry since then.

Rivalry Overview

In Major League Baseball, most rivalries start for one of two reasons: inter-division competition or geography. Seeing another team so often and competing for the same division championship makes each game much more intense. Over the years, that intensity and familiarity form most rivalries organically.

In this case, the Tampa Bay Rays entered the league in 1998, joining the American League East Division in which the Red Sox had been playing for years. For the first ten years in the league, the Rays, known as the Devil Rays until 2007, were consistently one of the worst teams in all of baseball. However, in that time, tempers flared, and benches cleared multiple times, adding fuel to the rivalry.

For Tampa Bay, being the laughing stock of the division for nearly a decade gave them a chip on their shoulder that could be seen on the field. They took on the tough guy, scrappy player role to try and compensate for their lack of talent; that rubbed some teams the wrong way.

In large part, this mentality started the rivalry with the Red Sox because it fueled some of the bench-clearing brawls in the early 2000s. These dramatic events built tension between these teams, and from 2008 on, when the Rays started to compete, the rivalry grew to new heights.

Notable Rivalry Games

August 29th, 2000

The Rays were hosting Boston in this early rivalry game that led to several ejections throughout the game. Pedro Martínez, a star pitcher for Boston, hit Gerald Williams with a pitch on the hand early in the game. Williams charged the mound in anger, starting a full-team brawl, but Martínez got the last laugh as he pitched a great game, and Boston won.

May 5th, 2002

The Red Sox were again playing in St. Petersburg in this early-season matchup when Trot Nixon, an outfielder for the Red Sox, pretended to lose his grip on the bat during a swing and nearly hit pitcher Ryan Rupe with it. This was in response to being thrown at by Tampa pitchers.

April 24th, 2005

Once again, the Red Sox came to town and started a brawl. An 11-3 Boston victory saw six people get ejected after two bench-clearing brawls stemming from pitchers intentionally throwing at hitters such as David Ortiz, who called the play dangerous.

June 5th, 2008

The history of throwing at opposing players continued as Rays’ pitcher James Shields hit visiting Red Sox batter Coco Crisp with a pitch. Crisp then charged the mound, and the two exchanged punches as the benches cleared.

October 19th, 2008

The Rays finally put their losing ways behind them and turned this rivalry into a contest of great teams rather than just a series of brawls. Playing at home, Tampa Bay defeated Boston 3-1 in Game 7 of the conference championship. The Rays then made their first World Series appearance following a hard-fought ALCS with the Red Sox.

May 25th, 2012

Playing in Boston, Rays batter Luke Scott was thrown at multiple times during a close win against the Red Sox. Afterward, he was quoted saying, “we know where it came from,” implying the Boston management was telling pitchers to throw at the Rays.

Notable Players and Coaches in the Rivalry

David Ortiz

Ortiz was the Red Sox’s designated hitter from 2003-2016. He served mainly as a designated hitter and was one of the best hitters of his generation. Ortiz shares an interesting connection with the Tampa Bay Rays, as he hit his 500th career home run at Tropicana Field, the Rays’ home field, on September 12, 2015. One year later, in September of 2016, the Rays honored Ortiz’s accomplishment in their stadium with a pregame ceremony, in which he was presented with a painting that depicted the moment of his 500th run.

James Shields

Shields was the Rays’ pitcher from 2006-2012. He was a dominant ace for the team and part of some dramatic moments in this rivalry. His most famous moment occurred on June 5, 2008, when Shields hit Red Sox outfielder Coco Crisp with a pitch, allegedly as revenge for Crisp’s sliding into Rays’ second baseman Akinori Iwamura the day before. After the hit, Crisp charged the mound, getting into a fistfight with Shields that led to a bench-clearing brawl for which three players were ejected and eight suspended.

Pedro Martínez

Martínez was the Red Sox’s pitcher from 1998-2004. The Hall of Famer played a big role in this rivalry from the beginning with the Gerald Williams bench-clearing brawl. His hitting of Williams with a pitch led to the Rays’ outfielder charging the mound. The resulting brawl led to eight Tampa Bay players being ejected. Martínez later avenged the fight by pitching a no-hitter into the ninth inning. After the game, a second confrontation occurred in the team clubhouses.

Gerald Williams

Gerald Williams was a Rays’ outfielder from 2000-2001. Williams is most famous for charging the mound after being hit by Red Sox’s pitcher Pedro Martinez. In this game, Martinez drilled Williams in the wrist on the fourth pitch of his first at bat. Williams charged the mound and solidly connected with a right hook, causing the benches to clear.

Coco Crisp

Coco Crisp was a Red Sox outfielder from 2006-2008. He was known for his speed and defense as a player and for his 2008 brawl with James Shields in this rivalry. The previous night, Crisp had slid into Rays second baseman Akinori Iwamura, taking him out of the game. Shields, the Red Sox’s starter, hit Crisp to retaliate. Crisp charged the mound and landed the first punch, after Shields swung and missed. The benches cleared, resulting in a massive brawl.

Luke Scott

Scott was a Rays outfielder and designated hitter from 2012-2013. He was infamously thrown at three times by starter Franklin Morales during a game against the Red Sox in 2012. On the fourth attempt, Morales connected, causing Scott to charge the mound and the benches to clear. No punches were thrown, as catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia grabbed Scott before he could reach the mound. Plenty of arguing ensued, especially between the two managers.


Why are the Red Sox and the Rays rivals?

This rivalry started because both teams play in the American League East Division. Many rivalries start for this reason because of how many times division opponents play each other. For the Rays and Red Sox, their rivalry has grown over the years because of dramatic feuds in the early years and intense high-stakes matchups more recently. Meeting the same opponent year after year with playoff implications on the line helps build a rivalry quickly.

When did the rivalry between the Red Sox and the Rays start?

The rivalry was officially born when the Rays, then the Devil Rays, joined Major League Baseball as an expansion team in 1998. They were placed in the American League East Division, where the Red Sox have played since 1969 and headlined as a founding member. The Red Sox are traditionally one of the better teams in baseball, and the Rays were one of the worst for the first ten years of their existence. During that time, key moments in the early 2000s started the rivalry.

Have the Red Sox and Rays always been in the same division?

Yes, the Red Sox and Rays have been in the same division since the founding of the Rays. The American League East Division has been home to the Red Sox since 1969. The Rays joined in 1998 as an expansion team and have played in the AL East ever since. During the first ten years of existence in the AL East, the Rays finished last or second to last every year, but since 2008 the Rays have been a yearly threat to the traditional powers in the division, namely the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.