Somehow the Rays keep getting it done -- and somehow they always seem to run into the Red Sox.
Tampa Bay beat Cleveland, 4-0, in Wednesday night's American League Wild Card Game, which means manager Joe Maddon's team will head to Fenway Park to face Boston in Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Friday at 3 p.m. ET (airing on TBS).
The Rays have won two straight elimination games, so they're October tested as they take on their biggest challenge yet: the team with the best record in the AL.
For two clubs from the AL East, this matchup is nothing new. It's just a lot bigger, with the winner moving on to play for the pennant. And the Red Sox -- who will throw left-hander Jon Lester at the Rays against their young lefty, Matt Moore, in Game 1 -- are happy to be starting it up at home.
"Real excited," Red Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes said. "You look at 162 games and six months and it's not even an appetizer for what is about to happen. Five hundred, 600-plus at-bats comes down to four in that first game. The atmosphere.
"We grinded, we battled, we worked hard for the home-field advantage. And we got that. I think this park in Fenway probably stands at the top of the board for what a home-field advantage means with the hostile environment, the big wall."
Fenway will surely be rocking in its team's playoff return to the Hub, and the Red Sox are happy to have Lester on the mound. The left-hander rebounded from a tough 2012 season with 15 wins and has been particularly effective down the stretch. In his 13 starts since the All-Star break, Lester is 7-2 with a 2.57 ERA.
"He's been outstanding in the second half," manager John Farrell said. "The last eight starts that he's put together for us, he's been very strong, and he'll lead the way for us."
For the Rays, Moore will take the ball, and his emergence as a complementary ace to lefty David Price has been a big reason why the Rays, who suffered from periods of inconsistent offensive production throughout the season, are playing in October.
Moore started the season 8-0 and finished 17-4 with a 3.29 ERA despite missing time with an arm injury. He's healthy now, and so is Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, who has been the team's hottest hitter in the last part of the season.
But the Rays also have excelled defensively, and that's been crucial to them nailing down their fourth October appearance in the last six years.
"Well, I've been talking a lot recently about it's our best infield defense we've ever had here, and you'd have to make a strong argument to tell me there was a better one that I saw this year in the American League," manager Joe Maddon said.
"[Longoria] is going to show up every year and be that Gold Glove every year. [Second baseman Ben] Zobrist, having a chance to be in one more position, that's because of [rookie outfielder] Wil [Myers]. When Wil came on board, then [Zobrist] was able to become pretty much a second baseman, and they're playing their best.
"Then you get these two other guys that really solidify all of this infield situation on a daily basis. I mean, literally, [shortstop Yunel] Escobar has made, since May, maybe three mistakes, about three mistakes since May. And his throws have been magnificent."
Rounding out the infield is first baseman James Loney, a free-agent pickup who spent the latter part of last season with the Red Sox.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, have forged a winning blend of veterans with plenty of playoff experience in David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury, and talented veterans including Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino and Jake Peavy, who were brought in for their bats and arms and to improve the chemistry of the clubhouse.
And then there's the steady hand of Farrell, who insisted from his first day on the job that his team could win now, instilled the belief within his players, and watched them do it and never look back.
"I think it's so important to be consistent," Farrell said. "When you establish roles or you establish an expectation, it's making sure that we stay accountable to that. Because if that's our guiding light, we can't stray from it and still expect to get there."
They are there now, along with the Rays. And it gets right back into gear in Game 1.
Rays: Homer happy
Longoria has hit eight home runs in postseason play and outfielder Delmon Young has now hit nine after going deep in Wednesday's Wild Card Game victory. Among the players in the 2013 postseason, only four other players have hit as many as Longoria: Cardinals outfielder Carlos Beltran (14), Boston designated hitter Ortiz (12), Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera (10) and Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday (eight). Young has the nine homers over the past two postseasons. Longoria has hit five home runs in 12 postseason road games.
• Including its win over Cleveland in Wednesday's Wild Card Game, Tampa Bay has won nine games in a row against teams above .500. The Rays played 97 games against teams .500 or better (48-49) in the regular season, the most among the 10 postseason teams.
• The Rays (who were 4-13 between Aug. 25-Sept. 11) are only the fifth team in the Wild Card era who endured 4-13 or worse slumps in the final six weeks and still made the postseason. They join the 2008 Brewers, '00 Yankees, '00 Mariners and 1995 Yankees.
Red Sox: Worst to first
The Red Sox finished in fifth place in 2012 and became the first Boston team to rebound the next season with a first-place finish. Since the start of the three-division era in 1994, this year's squad is the second AL team to win a division title the year after a last-place finish, the first being the 2008 Rays. Five NL teams have also done it.
Overall, this is the fourth time the Red Sox have reached the postseason following a fifth-place showing or worse in the previous year's standings. That also was accomplished following 1985 (fifth of seven), '66 (ninth of 10), and '45 (seventh of eight).
• Lester owns a Red Sox-best 1.35 ERA in 20 innings pitched over three career ALDS starts, all vs. the Angels between 2008-09. His 14 innings without an earned run in the 2008 ALDS stands as the most in any single postseason series since Jerry Reuss of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1981 NL Division Series (18 innings).
• The Red Sox are 43-31 (.581) all-time in postseason games at home, including 41-29 (.586) at Fenway Park and 17-9 (.654) since 2003. Boston is 8-6 all-time in 14 ALDS games at Fenway, including an 8-3 mark since 1999.
• Escobar played in a career-high 153 games and led all Major League shortstops with a club-record and career-best .989 fielding percentage (seven errors in 610 chances). He made three errors in his last 108 games.
• Ortiz is the only current Red Sox player remaining from the 2004 World Series championship team. He joins Pedroia, Ellsbury and Lester as the only players remaining on the team from the 2007 title-winning team. That 2007 season also was Farrell's first as Red Sox pitching coach.