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ALCS rematch on tap for Opening Day

ALCS rematch on tap for Opening Day

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Sometimes, the beginning picks up right from the previous ending. For the 2009 Red Sox, that will be the case when they kick off their season at what is sure to be an electric Fenway Park on Tuesday afternoon against the Tampa Bay Rays.

The game was originally slated to be played Monday, but Mother Nature interceded with rain, forcing the Sox and Rays to delay their season opener until Tuesday at 4:05 p.m. ET.

The last time Fenway was open for baseball business, the Red Sox pulled off a historic comeback from seven runs down in the seventh inning of Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. Of course, three days later, Boston's season ended and Tampa Bay -- 3-1 winners in Game 7 -- moved on to the World Series.

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Now it all begins anew with Josh Beckett pitching his first opener in a Boston uniform, and Tampa Bay counters with James Shields. It is the first of 18 meetings between the teams, with, of course, the possibility that there could be more in an ALCS rematch.

"I don't think they've gotten any worse," said Red Sox shortstop Jed Lowrie. "If anything, they've gotten better. It will be interesting. It might be a preview of what's to come."

The Red Sox, who are opening at Fenway for the first time since 2002, look forward to the challenge of facing one of their top competitors right out of the gate.

"Yeah, why not. [Let's] see what they have from the beginning," said Red Sox slugger David Ortiz.

Unlike a year ago, when the Rays surprised the entire baseball universe, there will be no surprises if they succeed in 2009.

"I think that if we think they had a magical year and they're not going to be around, we're all crazy," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "They're not old, they're not going to forget how to play. It certainly makes our life a lot more difficult in the American League East."

Aside from the obvious intrigue of the matchup, the Red Sox have several storylines for their opener.

It will be the first home game at Fenway for the new guys, including Rocco Baldelli, Brad Penny, Takashi Saito and Ramon Ramirez. And in case you forgot, this is Jason Bay's first Opening Day as a member of the Red Sox.

"It will be fun," said Bay. "I mean, I kind of had my first Fenway opener last year on some level. This is a little bit different -- Opening Day."

For Lowrie, it will be his first Opening Day in the Major Leagues.

"It will be an experience that I'll remember and it will be a big moment, but once it's over, it's back to business," Lowrie said.

Pitching matchup
BOS: Josh Beckett (12-10, 4.03 ERA in 2008)
The ace is in a far different place than last Opening Day, when he was on the disabled list with back woes. Beckett turned in a strong Spring Training, looking a lot like the guy who dominated opponents throughout 2007. This will be the fourth Opening Day start of Beckett's career, but first since '05. However, he is no stranger to Fenway openers. Beckett pitched the home opener for the Red Sox in '06 and '07, winning on both occasions.

Beckett has generally pitched well against the Rays in his career, going 5-3 with a 3.11 ERA in 10 starts. Most recently, he pitched through a right oblique strain and beat Shields in Game 6 of the ALCS. In his career at Fenway, Beckett is 21-16 with a 4.79 ERA. He has been a strong starter during his career, going 18-10 with a 3.35 ERA in April.

TB: James Shields (14-8, 3.56 ERA in 2008)
The righty is emerging into a top-flight pitcher, as evidenced by the fact he gets the nod for the defending AL champs in the opener. The Red Sox beat Shields twice in the ALCS last October, though he notched a solid 3.46 ERA in those games. In regular-season play, Shields has not performed well at Fenway, going 0-3 with a 10.13 ERA. Against Boston lifetime, he is 2-4 with a 5.23 ERA.

Opening Day Fanfare
The Boston Symphony Orchestra will sing the national anthem. The Boston Pops will perform what should be a stirring rendition of "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch.

Tidbits
The Red Sox have won two out of their past three season openers, but have a four-game winning streak in Fenway openers. ... Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia has five hits in 10 career at-bats against Shields. ... Jacoby Ellsbury, on the other hand, is 1-for-10 against the righty. ... Evan Longoria is 4-for-12 against Beckett with a homer. ... The Red Sox have sold out their past 469 home games, a Major League record.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• NESN

On radio
• WEEI 850, SBN 1150 (Español)

Up next
• Wednesday: Red Sox (Jon Lester, 16-6, 3.21 ERA in 2008) vs. Rays (Scott Kazmir, 12-8, 3.49 ERA in 2008), 7:10 p.m. ET
• Thursday: Red Sox (Daisuke Matsuzaka, 18-3, 2.90 ERA in 2008) vs. Rays (Matt Garza, 11-9, 3.70 ERA), 1:35 p.m. ET

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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