BOSTON – Talk all you want about the New York Yankees and Babe Ruth, Bucky Dent and Aaron Boone.
The Tampa Bay Rays are the team that has pestered Boston the most in recent years.
Red Sox Manager John Farrell knows that as he prepares his team for a best-of-five American League divisional series against Tampa Bay.
Game 1 is at 3:07 p.m. Friday at Fenway Park.
“We have the utmost respect for them,” Farrell said. “We have our hands full.”
It was Tampa Bay that topped Boston in the 2008 American League Championship Series. The Rays won the AL East in 2010 while Boston finished seven games back and out of the playoffs. And when the Red Sox collapsed in 2011, it was the Rays sneaking past Boston on the last day for a playoff berth.
Boston appears to have an edge this season, winning 12 of 19 games against the Rays.
But of those 12 wins, three came in extra innings, three were won in the ninth and two others were one-run or two-run games.
“(These games are) likely to be well-pitched, typically low-scoring,” Farrell said, “and there’s going to be a play — a defensive play — that will be a swing moment.
“And how we control the tempo from the mound will be key.”
Tampa Bay features a scary rotation of left-handers Matt Moore and David Price, and right-hander Alex Cobb to start the first three games. But Boston also can pitch.
“Primarily their pitching presents a very difficult challenge for us,” Rays Manager Joe Maddon said. “(Jon) Lester has refound himself. John Lackey has been great. (Clay) Buchholz is back. He’s always been tough on us.
“(Jake) Peavy is their fourth starter. That’s not bad.”
MATT MOORE is 2-0 against the Red Sox this year. He pitched a beauty at Fenway Park on July 22, a two-hit shutout.
“He has velocity and he has talent,” said Boston left fielder Jonny Gomes.
Moore features a mid-90′s fastball with a curveball and change-up. Moore can be effectively wild at times, getting players to chase bad pitches.
But Moore knows the reputation of the Red Sox and their patience at the plate.
“I have to prove I’m going to throw some strikes,” Moore said.
TAMPA BAY BRINGS a unique winning streak into Fenway. The Rays’ last three games were all must-win — at Toronto on Sunday, at Texas on Monday and at Cleveland on Wednesday.
“Quite an accomplishment,” Maddon said. “I want to believe it’s going to create some kind of momentum going into this series.
“We’ve been so road-tested recently on these one-game gigs. (Friday) is not necessarily a must-win but I really hope our guys approach it that way.”
THE RED SOX haven’t played since Sunday. The team has gone through workouts and one intrasquad game the past four days.
“I think we’re primed and ready to go,” Farrell said.
Gomes didn’t seem worried about the layoff.
“I’m happy where this team is,” he said. “Grateful we get to start at home. And we’ll run it out there.”
FRIDAY’S LINEUP will feature Gomes in left field against Moore. Switch-hitter Daniel Nava, who hits better against right-handers, likely will sit for the first two games.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia will start at catcher but David Ross is the likely catcher Saturday when Price pitches for Tampa Bay.
Ross is 2 for 5 with two home runs against Price.
THE BOSTON ROSTER wasn’t announced but four players packed up for Fort Myers, Fla. Pitchers Rubby De La Rosa and Drake Britton, infielder Brad Snyder and outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. will report to Boston’s facility there to stay in shape in case they’re needed later.
Felix Doubront appears to have the inside track on the final bullpen spot over Matt Thornton. Doubront spoke confidently in the clubhouse and later tweeted that he’s “looking forward to hearing the Fenway Faithful get loud.”
Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or: