The Rays host the second-place Red Sox for what might be the biggest series ever at Tropicana Field, as the teams meet with first place on the line and for the first time since the ugly June 5 brawl that resulted in eight suspensions.
"Its going to be an interesting moment for us," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "It's going to be interesting because of all the things that just did happen, all the suspensions that have been served and are still being served. From our perspective, it's over. It was over the moment we left that city, we made our point based on what had happened. Now it's just time to play baseball."
The Rays would seem to have the pitching matchups in their favor, as right-hander James Shields, who hit Coco Crisp to start the June 5 brawl in Boston, will face righty Justin Masterson in the opener; right-hander Matt Garza, coming off his one-hitter, draws knuckleballing right-hander Tim Wakefield; and southpaw Scott Kazmir goes against right-handed Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Players on both sides downplayed the hostilities and said the focus will be on baseball. That remains to be seen.
RAYS 4, PIRATES 3: RHP Andy Sonnanstine improved to a team-best 9-3 with seven strong innings and Shawn Riggans and Willy Aybar hit solo homers as the Rays finished the first half of their season with a 49-32 record that is best in the American League.
--RHP James Shields will face the Red Sox on Monday for the first time since the June 5 brawl in Boston, as the Rays have their top three starters aligned for the much-anticipated series at Tropicana Field. Shields will pitch Monday, RHP Matt Garza on Tuesday and LHP Scott Kazmir on Wednesday. --OF Jonny Gomes' pinch-hit home run on Saturday off Pirates LHP Damaso Marte came on the 15th pitch of the at-bat, the longest at-bat in team history to result in a home run. The last major-leaguer to homer on an at-bat of at least 15 pitches was Montreal's Terrmel Sledge on July 7, 2004, of Atlanta's Antonio Alfonseca, on the 16th pitch, according to STATS, Inc.
--3B Evan Longoria now leads all major-league rookies with 15 home runs; the most by an AL rookie before the All-Star break since Bob Hamelin had 16 in 1994.
--RHP Troy Percival, bothered by a sore left hamstring and a resulting loss of control in his last outing Tuesday, was much better with rest on Sunday, walking one on the way to his 19th save while regaining velocity and command.
--C Shawn Riggans is making the most of limited playing time. Starting for just the ninth time in the Rays' last 49 games, Riggans had a homer and RBI single. He has 15 RBIs in just 73 at-bats and his four homers match starter Dioner Navarro, who has gotten a vast majority of the playing time. "Every time we put him out there," manager Joe Maddon said, "he seems to do something to help us win."
--DH Cliff Floyd missed Sunday's game to return home to Chicago following the death of his grandmother but is expected to return by gametime on Monday.
BY THE NUMBERS: 15 -- Pitches in June 28 at-bat off Pittsburgh's Damaso Marte by Jonny Gomes, who hit a pinch-hit homer.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "They're not going to go away, we know that. They know we're not going away -- or they should. If they don't, shame on them." -- Rays reliever Trever Miller, on the Red Sox.