BOSTON — The Rays can beat the Red Sox.
They know it and the Red Sox know it.
Yes, it’s been that way for the past six seasons, since the Rays stepped from the ooze and stopped letting Boston bully them.
Now the only Monster is Fenway Park’s green one. Everything else is life-sized.
The Rays don’t fear the Red Sox. They know them too well, have beaten them too much, even surrounded Fenway blood roar, even on the biggest stages.
Rays history really began in 2008, early, with Joe Maddon’s club fighting the Yankees in spring training and later with the Red Sox.
It ended at the World Series, but only after the Rays outlasted the Sox in a mercilessly tense ALCS.
Think about it: Game 7 of the ALCS, and later: 162.
The two greatest Rays nights — riddled with Red Sox agony.
The message in 2008 was simple:
“You’re not going to be pushed around anymore,” Maddon said. “It’s the playground thing. I remember as a kid getting into several fights on a playground and at some point you have to stand your ground.”
Now the Rays and Red Sox stand toe to toe, eyeball to eyeball — again.
Of course the Rays can win this division series, which begins today at Fenway.
The Rays have the pitching and, in the odd inning, maybe enough hitting, to win in five.
Jonny Gomes, a Rays wild man from way back, plays left field for the Red Sox. He is a confirmed favorite of fans, if not his barber. Fear the Beard. These 2013 Sox are hairy.
Gomes thought back to Rays days.
“I remember in 2008, we all had Mohawks,” he said.
There’s something hairy about Rays-Sox. We’re not sure it’s a true rivalry. It hasn’t put enough time in. What’s six seasons compared to the Sox and Yankees snarling at each other for 120 years? But there’s something here, something real.
Once there was the Pedro Martinez-Gerald Williams bean brawl.
Remember Carl Crawford’s walk-off homer against Boston on Opening Day 2003?
They were the Devil Rays back then.
Then it truly turned, but on more than just a name change.
One day, the Rays weren’t afraid anymore. It was 2008.
“I think we set the tone,” Gomes said Thursday, and in the Red Sox clubhouse. “We were sick and tired of them taking our lunch money and took it back.”
There was that September showdown at Fenway in 2008, the upstarts taking two of three, Dan Johnson over Jonathan Papelbon, now and forever.
There was the ALCS, that endlessly wild marathon Game 2 the Rays took after 5 hours and 27 minutes of baseball.
There were three stunning games at Fenway — the crack of Evan Longoria’s and B.J. Upton’s home run bats. Then Game 5, Rays up 7-0, seven outs from the World Series, and an amazing Red Sox comeback win. The Rays surely were done. Then they weren’t.
And 162: Dan the man again, and Longoria, rounding first, arms raised — and at the center of it was a Curse-like Boston fold. You haven’t arrived in baseball until you’ve broken all the hearts in New England at least once. The Rays have already doubled down.
Now there’s a chance for more, a real chance.
In acknowledging that Thursday, entirely well-meaning Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz said, “The Rays, I have a lot of respect for them. ... I know our history with the Yankees has been going on for way before, but now we have a new rival, which is the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and you can never forget about that.”