In the hearts of the fans — and especially the minds of the television network executives — the Boston Red Sox’ most important regular-season games will always be those played against the New York Yankees.
That notion may change come September, the next time the Tampa Bay Rays visit Fenway Park for what’s shaping up to be a crucial series of meetings.
The up-and-coming Rays entered this week’s three-game set with Boston owning a half-game edge on the defending world champs for first place in the powerful American League East. That lead is now at a cushy 3 1/2 games after Tampa handed the reeling Red Sox a startling sweep on the West Florida shore.
In Boston’s biggest series of the season thus far — and arguably the most important one in the history of the Tampa Bay franchise — the battle-tested Red Sox were the team that wilted under the spotlight instead of the neophyte Rays. In the first two games, Boston’s heavy-hitting offense was held squarely in check by Tampa hurlers James Shields and Matt Garza. In the finale, the Red Sox squandered a late three-run lead in a painful 7-6 defeat that exposed the club’s primary weakness — a lack of quality relievers to set the stage for standout closer Jonathan Papelbon.