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Over Thirteen Years in the Making: Fans Reflect on the Increasingly Layered Feud Between the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays

On Monday, June 10, the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays game turned into a bench-clearing brawl after Red Sox starter John Lackey intentionally threw at Rays outfielder Matt Joyce.

It wasn’t a particularly exciting baseball fight: there weren’t any suplexes, no was one carted off the field in a neck brace, and heck, no punches were even thrown. Honestly, it was more of a sissy, pushing competition, with players just calling each other bad names. But it was still significant.

While the New York Yankees have long been the undisputed Red Sox arch nemesis, the kerfuffle last week between the Red Sox and Rays added another layer to one of baseball’s most unsuspecting rivalries.

“I think [the feud] goes back to the early years when the Devil Rays and Pedro Martinez got on each other’s nerves,” said Matthew Kory, a Boston Red Sox fan and blogger for Over the Monster and Baseball Prospectus.

In fact, it had–back in 2000. With his fourth pitch of the night, Pedro Martinez, then a member of the Red Sox, hit Gerald Williams, then a member of the Devil Rays. At first, Williams slowly sulked up the line to first base–but then, perhaps pontificating about Martinez’s long history of intentionally throwing at batters, decided to charge the mound. Thirteen seasons later, the rivalry is still going strong.

But not everyone thinks the seeds of the rivalry started with Martinez’s beanball.

“A month into 1998, the moment Devil Rays fans realized that their expansion franchise was going to be terrible, at least for the first few years, they immediately started hating the Red Sox and Yankees,” said Robbie Knopf, a Tampa Bay Rays fan and blogger for Rays Colored Glasses and DRaysBay.

While there has been many great, intense match-ups between the Rays and Yankees, there simply isn’t that same brand of bad blood that seethes so often when the Red Sox and Rays face-off. In between the most recent Lackey-Joyce and original Martinez-Williams disputes, there has been a noticeable amount of evolving incidents.

“There was the time in 2002 when Trot Nixon all but threw his bat towards Ryan Rupe (he claimed he lost grip), a few incidents in 2004 and 2005 although there wasn’t really a brawl, and then the most famous event: the James Shields-Coco Crisp fight in 2008,” Knopf reflected.

After Shields attempted to drill him, Crisp, understandably, charged the mound. The fight was a nasty one and arguably goes down as a “classic” as Shields threw a hard punch directly at Crisp’s face–which luckily, Crisp out-Matrixed. In the end, eight players were suspended for a combined 38 games. Interestingly enough, Jonny Gomes, who was suspended five games as a Ray, is now a member of the Red Sox.

Yet, even with the volume of incidences that have occurred over the past thirteen years, perhaps it’s just too easy to lump them together.

“[You have to remember], the players, on-field management, and front offices are all different now than when Pedro went head hunting back in the early days of Devil Rays-dom,” said Kory. “I tend to look at this more as a group of isolated incidents than a long running feud.”

There is a sense of truth to this. Is it even the least bit conceivable that Shields threw at Crisp to honor Gerald Williams, a player who only played a year and a half with the organization–and eight years prior, no less?

That is perhaps why many Boston fans tend to write-off the feud–especially since the Yankees’ rivalry dates back to the infamous Babe Ruth sale in 1919.

“I’m not sure [the feud] is a whole lot more than any other two teams that meet as often as Boston and Tampa do,” said Kory, brushing off the latest heated battle.

Unlike Kory, Knopf doesn’t take the rivalry so lightly.

“The feud has really evolved [over] the past few years since the Rays became one of the best teams in baseball. Rays’ fans didn’t have to hate the Red Sox for being a great team anymore because suddenly the Rays won the AL East in 2008,” said Knopf. “But in order to get to the World Series the [Rays] had to go up against the defending champion Red Sox and they beat them in 7 highly-contested games. The rivalry used to be a one-sided, off the field thing with Rays’ fans hating the Red Sox–[but] now Boston knows that the Rays are for real.”

With nine games remaining this season between the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays–three of which taking place in September–there’s a good chance fans will see the benches and bullpens empty yet again.

“The history is just starting between these two teams,” said Knopf. “[But] it will [still] be a long time before the Rays-Red Sox conflict has enough prominence to really go from a division rivalry to one of the best rivalries in sports.”

Ben Berkon is a freelance sports, humor, and tech writer/blogger from New York City. Berkon’s work has been featured on The Huffington Post, Yahoo! Sports and The Onion.

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