Red Sox ready for the Rays

PHILADELPHIA -- Bring on the Rays!

And this time the Red Sox are ready for them.

The last time the two AL East rivals played, Tampa Bay swept a four-game series at Fenway Park to prove the Rays were once again a contender. This time, the Sox are playing much better as they head to St. Petersburg, Fla. having taken 2 of 3 from the defending NL champion Phillies this weekend at Citizens Bank Park.

“We weren’t playing very well the first time we played them, so hopefully we can go in there and play better,” said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia.

The Rays are atop the AL East, while the Sox are in fourth, 8½ games back. But the Red Sox are feeling pretty good about themselves after winning five of their last six games.

“I think momentum is a huge deal for us going into Tampa and playing the first-place team in our division right now,” said Tim Wakefield, who earned the victory on Sunday with eight shutout innings of five-hit ball. “Hopefully we can continue this run that we’re on.”

Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis comes into the series on a tear, hitting .390 with 5 homers, 14 RBIs and a 1.316 OPS.

“You just need to go out and play the game,” he said. “Confidence is good, but it doesn’t matter when you go out there and play the game. I’m not really into the momentum thing as much as just going out there and playing good baseball.”

The Rays were the second-best team in baseball in 2008 after they lost to the Phillies in the World Series. But 2009 was a down year for Tampa, almost like it was suffering from a Fall Classic hangover. Red Sox manager Terry Francona knows all too well what that can be like, so he’s not surprised the Rays are playing well again.

“For one thing they have experience going through what they’ve done,” said Francona. “In ’08 they got on that run and it was probably the first time they had success and you could see it kind of building.”

Francona said it was quite noticeable during spring training that the Rays were going to be good.

“I think living through the ups and downs and what a season does for you and, again, you start having success and realize how much more fun the season gets,” Francona said.