And then there were two


And then there were two

By Rich Levine

And then there were two.

"Two what?" you don't ask.

Well, first of all, two Idiots back in the A.L. East.

Thats right, in cased you missed it: Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez, Bostons former Unfrozen Caveman Centerfielder and Hard-Hitting Hobo Astronaut, have taken whats left of their talents to Tampa.

Damon signed for one-year5.25 million and will play left field. Manny signed for one-year2 million and will serve as designated hitterspiritual advisor. And just like that, two of the most important and polarizing characters in Red Sox history are back in the mix. Theyll presumably face Boston 19 times this season, nine times at Fenway, and, believe it or not, play a somewhat significant role in the Sox season.

And frankly, I cant wait.

One reason is nostalgia.

Can you imagine Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon patrolling the Fenway outfield in Tampa Bay Ray jerseys?

How bizarre it would be to watch, say, Tampa Manny toss a ball into the stands with only two outs in the inning, or Tampa Damon make a shoe-string grab in center, while his left fielder pees inside the Green Monster?

And OK, even if they dont play much outfield together, how about seeing them run the bases together, or do a stupid handshake together, or make fun of Joe Maddons glasses together? Whatever it is, considering the two franchises, the two players, the history and whats still at stake, the fact that Damon and Manny are doing anything with the Rays is cause for at least a little excitement.

And over the course of a long 162-game season, that kind of stuff is great. Whats better than another reason to get up for a random Tuesday night game in July?

But nostalgias not the only reason to be excited about these guys signing with Tampa.

The other is this:

The offseason is almost over, and these two guys are pretty much the only players who have signed with Tampa.

Since the end of last season, the Rays have lost Carl Crawford, Matt Garza, Carlos Pena and Jason Bartlett. Theyve lost Rafael Soriano (closer), Dan Wheeler (set up man) and Grant Balfour and Joaquin Benoit (two fancy-named but quality middle relievers). Rico Brogna and Rolando Arrojo arent playing anymore, but if they were, I swear the Rays would have found a way to let them go.

And for the Sox, thats a pretty big deal, because make no mistake, the Rays had become a very serious and worthy rival.

Over the last three seasons, the Rays have won two A.L. East titles, which is as many as the Sox have won in the last 15 years. Over the last three seasons, the Rays have won 277 games, the Red Sox have one 279 games. They met once in the playoffs, and the Rays came out on top. Only one of the two has made the World Series, and it wasnt Boston.

Since the moment the Sox last won the title theyve been in a constant and legitimate three-way battle for the division crown, and over that time theyve struggled with it. With a system like they have in baseball, where you have only two chances to make the playoffs, the addition of an extra perennial contender makes a huge difference. The Sox learned this the hard way.

But not as hard as its about to be for the Rays.

Theyve lost all that talent, and still, all they have to show for it are a quickly aging Johnny Damon and the ghost of the shadow of Manny Ramirez. Oh, and Kyle Farnsworth.

And in the A.L. East, in 2011, that wont cut it.

So basically, it comes down to this: While the signings of Damon and Ramirez may have laid the foundation for a new chapter of the Red SoxRays rivalry, you might as well take that same block of cement and carve out the D.O.D for Tampas run among the A.L.s elite.

Are they still a solid team? Sure. Theyve got David Price, Evan Longoria, BJ Upton and Ben Zobrist. And if Damon can stay healthy and Manny can stay focused (long shot hes playing in front of empty seats every night), then the Rays will still be competitive. But when you look at what they lost, and how theyve filled those holes, and how the Yankees and especially the Sox have improved over that same time. Its obvious that the Rays are no longer in that league. By no fault of their own, they just couldnt keep up. Now theyre more Blue Jays than BoSox.

And the timing couldnt be better for Boston.

Not only have the Red Sox re-emerged as the best team money can buy, but theyve also lost one of their two biggest competitors.

Its like if McDonalds unveiled McCrack, their most delicious and addicting burger of all time, and then a week later Wendys went vegetarian. They became the best and half of the rest disappeared.

And while the signings of Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez were more the nails in the coffin than the main reason for the collapse, we can say that despite all the story lines and drama this new Rays team may bring theres now one less contender in the AL East race.

Tampa's toast . . .

And then there were two.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on Rich can be reached at Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

David Price improves command, indicates he's pitching through ailment


David Price improves command, indicates he's pitching through ailment

BOSTON — David Price and Rick Porcello showed improvement on back-to-back nights Friday and Saturday, important signs for the Red Sox after a difficult month for both pitchers prior to this homestand.

Price on Saturday night went six innings and allowed three runs, two earned, in a 6-3 loss to the Angels. He fanned five and his velocity has been consistently better this year than last year.

But the most important number was his walk total: one. He walked three batters in his previous start, and four in both of his starts prior.

“Two outings ago, the first start here in Fenway,” Sox manager John Farrell said. “There was better timing in his delivery and overall better separation over the rubber. And he carried that through I thought, even though there's a higher pitch count in Houston, and has been able to maintain it here. I can't say there was one specific thing. It's been more the timing over the rubber. And you're seeing him pitch out of the stretch exclusively. Just less moving parts in a better position to repeat it.”

After Price’s final inning, the telecast captured Price calling pitching coach Carl Willis into the tunnel. Neither Farrell nor Price detailed the conversation. 

“Yeah, everything was fine,” Farrell said of the conversation. “Everything is OK there.”

Price made it sound like he’s dealing with some sort of physical ailment, but was vague.

“There's a lot of stuff going on right now,” the pitcher said when asked about the desire to stay out there. “You don't want it to linger into the next start, or two or three weeks from now, and that's why we did what we did.”

Asked to elaborate, Price reinforced that the decision was to save his body for another day.

“You never want to come out of a game. But you have to look forward at the time,” Price said. “You don’t want today to cost you your next start or you know, the start after that. So that’s what happened.

“It has nothing to do with my elbow or anything like that. This is — you get past one thing and there’s another So that’s what it is.”

Price in New York in early June felt a blister develop on his ring finger. He missed an in-between start bullpen because of it.

Asked about the blister Saturday, Price said, “That one’s gone.”

Farrell indicated the blister was diminished, if not entirely gone.

“He's been dealing with that,” Farrell said. “I think while it's still present and maybe not as severe as it was when it first happened, I'm sure he's going to check on it occasionally."

Red Sox threaten late, but can't come back in 6-3 loss to Angels


Red Sox threaten late, but can't come back in 6-3 loss to Angels

BOSTON - JC Ramirez rebounded from his shortest career start with six solid innings, Cameron Maybin doubled home a run and scored another and the Los Angeles Angels held off the Boston Red Sox 6-3 on Saturday night.

The Angels look for their fifth series win in their last six on Sunday.

Mitch Moreland hit a solo homer for the Red Sox, who lost for only the third time in their last 13 home games.

Ramirez (7-5) allowed one run and four hits with five strikeouts after lasting just three innings and giving up five runs in his previous start.

Blake Parker struck out pinch-hitter Chris Young with the bases loaded for the final out for his first save of the season after Boston scored twice in the ninth.

Red Sox manager John Farrell was ejected by third-base umpire and crew chief Bill Miller after Fernando Abad was called for a balk, scoring a run that made it 5-1 in the seventh.