I’ll admit that for a few moments, I had fears of the upstart Rays sashaying into Fenway–and those of us who remember Eric Hinske fondly know how he, for one, loves to shashay–and stuffing us into our lockers. And after that leadoff home run by Akinori Iwamura, I found myself reaching for the Maalox keg I keep close at hand. Holy shyte, I thought, they’s gonna school us!

But then the guys kicked it into gear. Home runs by Drew and Scenic Lowell, and a rare big hit from Covelli. Three innings of shut-out relief from Delcarmen, Hansen, Lopez and the Papel-Bot. Even some asshat fan bounding onto the field to spread a little Celtics mojo.

When it was all over, I felt oddly comforted, knowing that order had been restored to the universe. But how cool is it that we’ve got a Rays-Sox series that carries a bit of the intensity of a Yankees visit. Hell, it used to be the only thing worth watching a Sox-Rays game for was wondering when that f@#kin’ mascot thing on the scooter was gonna go rolling by. But now, stakes is high. For the Sox, it’s all about hiking up the big pants and reaffirming the badassery that earned us that World Series ring. For the Rays, as today’s St. Petersburg Times confirms, it’s a chance to prove they deserve to be considered among contenders for the AL East:

Eventually, if the Rays are going to grow into a contender, this is the kind of game they will have to win. On the road. Against a world champion. Without all their pieces. Yes, they are going to have to win at Fenway. Yes, they are going to have to win against the Red Sox.

When it comes to baseball, the Red Sox are pretty much the biggest bully on the block. For the Rays in particular, the Red Sox have become the monsters in the closet. Boston has won 42 of their past 51 meetings at Fenway. Around here, the improvement of the Rays is strictly a word-of-mouth affair; no one has seen it close up.

In other words, the Red Sox aren’t going anywhere, and if the Rays are, they’re going to have to deal with them. That isn’t easy. The Red Sox have a lineup of old leather and barbed wire, and they have earned their reputation in big games.

They seem to make every big pitch, to get every big hit. Here in Fenway, comforted by the Green Monster and John Hancock’s autograph, they are tougher to beat than the Cartwrights were on the Ponderosa.

“To win in this league,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said, “you have to win in this ballpark. They’re difficult, they’re very difficult, but we have to get it done here. At some point, we’ve just got to make that leap.”

Tonight, they’ll be trying to get it done against Commander Kick-Ass. Where you gonna put your money, baby?