09/16/08 1:16 AM ET
Rays not rattled by AL East situation
Boston (89-61) at Tampa Bay (88-60), Tuesday, 7:10 p.m. ET
By Brittany Ghiroli / MLB.com
The Rays may be playing in arguably the biggest week in franchise history, but the pregame chatter is dominated with fantasy football outcomes and who will be the next player to sport the increasingly popular Mohawk haircut.
And manager Joe Maddon couldn't be happier.
"I just think it's a matter of what you want to create," Maddon said. "If you want to create a tighter environment, you can, and if you don't want to, you don't have to. There's enough pressure being applied from outside, you really don't want to magnify that from within. So I like the way our guys are right now."
The laissez-faire approach has the Rays' clubhouse generating more of a backyard barbecue atmosphere, as players greeted recent callups Mitch Talbot and Jeff Niemann, played frequent card games and talked about ordering some additional monogrammed blue Rays bathrobes.
And despite Monday's 13-5 loss, Tuesday's ritual is bound to be much of the same.
"The only way to deal with it is to stay loose," starter Edwin Jackson said of the heated Red Sox series. "Stop overanalyzing. You got to take it all the same -- through the good, the bad and the ugly."
And Monday's game was ugly, as the Rays were routed, forfeiting their sole possession atop the American League East. But if there is one thing the long-beleaguered franchise knows how to do well, it is rebound.
"[In past] losing seasons, what we had to do is get our butt kicked and turn the page," Jonny Gomes said. "And I think that's what carried over to this year with winning. You know, win a series, sweep a series, riding that high and then just turning the page and go on to the next series and next game."
The Rays will send Andy Sonnanstine to the hill on Tuesday, looking to take a page from a previous chapter. The right-hander is fresh off Wednesday's thrilling extra-innings 4-2 win over Boston, in which Sonnanstine allowed one run over seven innings in his first appearance vs. the Red Sox this season.
After dropping the first game of last week's three-game set in Boston, Tampa Bay turned the tables and notched a series "W" in front of the Fenway Park faithful. Given Monday's drubbing, the Red Sox have far from forgotten that series, handing the Rays their home first loss to Boston all season.
"I mean, they've had their backs against the wall severely in playoff series in the past and come back and won them," Maddon said. "So this is not new territory for them. However, we've played well against them this year, and we've bounced back."
And far be it for the Rays to stray from their low-key mantra and reach for the panic button.
"We don't have to look up [in the standings]; we control our own destiny," Gomes said. "The last couple weeks ... why change? If it ain't broke, don't fix it. And we've been loose all year; this isn't time to get tight and change what got us here."
Monday's starter, Scott Kazmir, agreed.
"We are the type of team that really doesn't, we don't dwell on losses, especially losses like [Monday]," he said. "You have seen what we have done this whole entire year. We really don't get down on ourselves."Pitching matchup
TB: RHP Andy Sonnanstine (13-7, 4.47 ERA)
Sonnanstine received a no-decision in his last outing on Wednesday against the Red Sox. He allowed no earned runs over seven innings. The right-hander struck out seven while walking none before leaving after 96 pitches. Sonnanstine is 6-3 with a 4.93 ERA in 13 starts at Tropicana Field this season. BOS: RHP Josh Beckett (12-9, 4.10 ERA)
Beckett looked strong Wednesday against the Rays. The Red Sox ace went six innings, allowing six hits and just one run. Most importantly, Beckett struck out seven in his abbreviated work, six of which came in the third and fourth innings. In those two frames, he looked every bit the dominant postseason pitcher he's been. Still working his pitch count up in his second start since coming off the disabled list, manager Terry Francona lifted Beckett of his duties against Tampa Bay after 84 pitches. Tidbits
Akinori Iwamura's solo home run in Monday night's game was his first blast since June 24 in Miami. Four of his six home runs this season have come against Boston. ... John Jaso recorded his first career Major League hit on Monday, opening the bottom of the sixth inning with a single off Red Sox reliever Chris Smith. He also scored in the frame on Justin Ruggiano's two-run home run. ... Although Monday's crowd was a sizable 29,772, Maddon said it was more "pro Red Sox" than he anticipated. ... Given the Rays-Red Sox history this season, home-plate umpire Jerry Meals issued Kazmir and both clubs a warning after the southpaw hit Jason Varitek with a pitch in the second inning. Francona came out and spoke with Meals following the incident, and Maddon also came out onto the field. Kazmir stayed in the game and Maddon was confident the lefty did not intentionally hit the Red Sox captain. "He was just struggling in the zone tonight," Maddon said of Kazmir. ... Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Barry Melrose threw out the first pitch on Monday, and Hall of Famer and former Ray Wade Boggs will join the Orlando Magic's Dwight Howard in tossing out Wednesday's ceremonial first pitch. ... With Niemann and Talbot joining the Rays on Monday, the team is currently carrying 35 players, including 16 pitchers. ... Rays president Matt Silverman and Kazmir will be on hand for the South Brandon Little League rededication ceremony at 11 a.m. ET on Tuesday. Tickets
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Wednesday: Red Sox (Tim Wakefield, 9-10, 3.92) at Rays (Matt Garza, 11-9, 3.60), 7:10 p.m. ET
Thursday: Twins (Glen Perkins, 12-4, 4.40) at Rays (James Shields, 13-8, 3.50), 7:10 p.m. ET
Friday: Twins (Nick Blackburn, 10-9, 3.89) at Rays (Edwin Jackson, 11-11, 4.33), 7:10 p.m. ET
Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.