The Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays do not have bad blood, or at least not in the way that both teams have it with their respective division rivals. Perhaps nowadays, or at least post-2008, there’s some annoyance, a low murmur of disagreement between the clubs. However, to describe their relationship as “fueled by rage” would be incorrect.
Unless you are talking about August 29th, 2000.
When the Red Sox and Devil Rays locked horns on that summer evening, the two AL East teams were in completely different worlds. The Red Sox were sitting nine games over .500, and four games behind the division-leading New York Yankees, with a 69-60 record. The Devil Rays were very much not close to the top of the division. Coming into tonight with a 57-74 record, the Devil Rays were in last place in the AL East, two games below the Baltimore Orioles. The Devil Rays were fighting to avoid three consecutive seasons in last place. They were the whipping boys of the AL East.
Taking the hill for the Red Sox was their Ace, and future Hall of Famer, Pedro Martinez. After putting up astronomical numbers in 1999, the reigning AL Cy Young winner is on a tear yet again the following season. Coming into tonight’s game, Martinez brings a 14-4 record and an insane 1.77 ERA.
Leading off for the Devil Rays is Gerald Williams, a veteran outfielder, who has been struggling in the month of August. Ahead of the eighth month, Williams was on fire coming out of July. Slashing a solid .333/.376/.618, with an OPS of .994, the Tampa outfielder was raking for the last-place team.
Those numbers are important to understand Gerald Williams’s mindset coming into this game. Sure, there’s a lot that goes into a mid-season push from a particular player. It’s possible they’re in a contract year, or they are fighting for a roster spot.
Or they’re fighting to get out of where they are.
Gerald Williams was traded by the New York Yankees in 1996 to the Milwaukee Brewers, just ahead of their first World Series win since 1976. That Yankees squad has been canonized in New York, as well as in the annals of baseball history. Williams had spent his entire career in the Yankees organization, and now, just as they are close to getting to the postseason, he’s dealt in the eleventh hour. That’s something you don’t forget.
After that deal, Williams played a season in Milwaukee, before being traded to the Braves. While in Atlanta, Williams joined a solid Braves team, that was on the backside of the “America’s Team” World Series runs. However, with the possibility of a trip to the postseason, Williams got to work. His 1998 and 1999 seasons were some of his best, as well it should be when you’re playing for the Braves of the 1990s.
And finally, in 1999, Gerald Williams makes it to the World Series, only to face a very familiar foe.
The New York Yankees won 98 games that season on their way to their third World Series in four years. With Ricky Ledee now playing in Gerald Williams’s position, the Yankees roster was completely dominant, suffocatingly brilliant, and absolutely seamless. Gerald Williams was hoping to find the cracks.
Instead, Williams hits .176 over the four-game series, ending with a Yankees sweep. A week later the Braves released Williams, setting him adrift after the lowest moment of his career.
Thankfully there was a team who was ready to snatch him up.
The Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Williams began his Devil Ray career going 3-for-4, with a home run against the Minnesota Twins. And over the first three months of the season put up the solid numbers he had become known for putting up.
But July, as stated before, was Gerald Williams’ month. Slashing a solid .333/.376/.618, with an OPS of .994, the Tampa outfielder was making a case for other teams in need of some bench depth in October, that he was the guy.
But the deadline came and went and instead of dealing Williams, the Rays opted for trading the younger Bubba Trammell to the Mets, who were heading for a World Series appearance later that year. After putting up solid numbers, Williams was stuck in Tampa Bay, watching other younger players head off to better opportunities.
Williams’ production declined over the next month, slashing .244/.294/.378, with an OPS of .672, and seeing a big uptick in his strikeout numbers. Williams was struggling to regain control of his season, forced to play it out on a sinking Devil Rays team.
So now we’ve arrived at August 29th, 2000. With Pedro Martinez, the hottest pitcher on the planet, on the mound.
It should also be mentioned that Pedro Martinez hits batters often. In Pedro’s shortened 1994 season, he hit eleven batters, the most in the entire league. At the end of this 2000 season, he’ll have hit 14. Hitting batters has always been a part of his game, and Pedro has been vocal about that.
“I hit you, I don’t care, it is part of the game, now take your base.” Was it for the mental advantage, like Bob Gibson? That famous “I own half the plate, it’s up to the hitter to figure out which half” mentality? Or was it for intimidation like Nolan Ryan?
Regardless, Pedro Martinez came inside to Gerald Williams with the 4th pitch of the game, on a 1-2 count, and hit him on the wrist.
There’s a moment where Pedro might have glanced at Williams, but instead, Pedro asks for a new ball from Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. Williams takes a few steps down the line, looking from his wrist to Pedro back to his wrist, back to Pedro.
“I gave him a chance,” Williams told a FOX Sports reporter, “but he didn’t take it. I saw no remorse on his face and I knew I had to go out there.”
Gerald Williams, who was slashing .244/.294/.378, has charged the mound towards one of the greatest pitchers of all-time. At that moment, right before he takes a step towards Pedro, you can feel Williams’ realization that the game has forgotten him in Tampa Bay. Pedro represents everything he could have been, at the top of his game, canonized by the fan base, making the SportsCenter highlight reels. And Pedro can’t be bothered to look at him.
Pedro and the rest of the world do not care.
A total of eight Devil Rays were ejected after the benches-clearing brawl. Pedro Martinez brings a no-hitter into the ninth inning. Red Sox legend Carl Everett misses out on hitting the cycle because he hits a second home run instead of a single. The Devil Rays lose 8-0.
And when you search Gerald Williams, this moment is the first to come up. This is Gerald Williams’s reputation. But I choose to look at this moment, not as a moment of rage, or frustration.
I’m going to view this moment as one man’s fight for control of his life. Too many times Gerald Williams has let other people get him down. Too many times has he been passed over for something else, for something better. No, in this moment, Gerald Williams is doing something that no one has done for him in a very long time.
Gerald Williams is fighting for Gerald Williams.
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