It may be hard to believe, but there was a time when our hatred of the Rays (or the Devil Rays or the Florida CPAs or whatever they call themselves) outspanned that of the Yankees, Communists and Imagine Dragons. At first, they were nothing more than an irritant, like that kid brother who always wants to borrow your skateboard, your fake ID or your rare Coco Crisp mask. They were harmless cellar-dwellers whose role in the AL East pecking order was typically relegated to spoiler or laughing stock.
That changed on August 29, 2000. And thanks to the magic of COVID-19, the lack of new baseball and NESN’s nightly replays of classic Red Sox games, I got to relive this painful moment last night.
Never let it be said that the great Pedro Martinez was afraid to go up and in on an opposing batter. Some might even say it was his “thing.” And during that late August game against the then-“Devil” Rays, he plunked lead-off batter Gerald Williams on the hand, inciting a brawl for the ages. Petey really didn’t acquit himself well in the donnybrook; he looks kinda like a rag doll swatting at flies while caught in a tornado. But Jason Varitek reaffirmed his value to the team with a magnificent take-down, protecting his pitcher and, at the time, the Sox’ most valuable asset.
What the Rays didn’t know was that you can’t kill Pedro, you can only piss him off. And for the balance of the game, he tore into them mercilessly, carrying a no-hitter into the ninth.
The no-no was broken up, tragically might I add, by former Sox catcher John Flaherty. I was so pissed, I put my fist through a wall. I then finished my beer and walked straight out the door, spending the next hour wandering aimlessly through the neighborhood, working off my aggression by shouting at trees and squirrels. It was another reminder to me and my loved ones that the Red Sox were “a problem” I had… and I often wonder where it all might have taken me if they’d never won the 2004 World Series. Would I be dead? In prison? On the lam in some Mexican fishing village, sporting a fake beard and answering to “Candido”? The mind reels. But I digress.
Video of the Sox/Rays brawl is still fascinating after all these years, most notably for none other than Timmeh Wakefield stepping into the fray to maintain law and order and an undercard battle between Brian Daubach and Roberto Hernandez.
From that day forward, the Rays became Public Enemy Number One. Even good old Dan Duquette dumped fuel on the fire when, speaking from the luxury boxes and flanked by ten armed guards, he called Williams a “thug.” There’d be a few more times that Tampa Bay would be a thorn in our side, most notably in the 2008 ALCS. But that’s another story.