© 2008 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

10/07/08 5:41 PM EST

Maddon 'excited' for all-East ALCS

Skipper compares his Rays to Red Sox as Game 1 inches near

ST. PETERSBURG -- On Tuesday, the Rays rested.

After celebrating their 6-2 clinching win over the White Sox in Game 4 of the American League Division Series, the team flew home on a charter and enjoyed a day off Tuesday in advance of the AL Championship Series, which begins Friday night when the Rays will host the Red Sox at Tropicana Field.

complete postseason coverage
Decisions need to be made about who will start the opening game -- James Shields is the likely candidate -- and who will be on the roster, but those will wait for the coming days. On Tuesday, manager Joe Maddon talked mostly about the Rays' upcoming matchup against their ranking No. 1 rival.

"Just to get to this point is a tribute to what our guys have done all year," said Maddon via a Tuesday afternoon conference call. "The fact that it's the Red Sox makes it even more interesting. We've played them so often this year, between Spring Training games and the regular season, and now, the playoffs. But for us to get to this particular juncture is an important step for us. We'll just play our games.

"I like the fact it's the American League East, it speaks to the division's strength. But again, we're just very pleased we're able to advance at this point."

The Rays went 10-8 against the Red Sox in 2008. At Tropicana Field, the Rays held an 8-1 advantage, twice sweeping the Red Sox, while at Fenway Park the Rays went 2-7 and got swept twice.

Fortunately for the Rays, they will have four games at Tropicana Field during the best-of-seven series by virtue of being a division winner and the Red Sox being the Wild Card team.

Maddon noted that a seven-game series is unique and has a life of its own.

"One of the first things I said to the guys in Detroit when we clinched the division was to understand that something bad is going to happen [during a playoff series] and we're going to face difficult moments, and you have to fight through them, because once today's over, you have to move on, kind of like we've done all year," Maddon said.

Maddon used the 1960 World Series won by the Pirates as an illustration to his team. In that Fall Classic, The Pirates won four games by a total of seven runs while getting blown out by the Yankees in their three losses by a margin of 35 runs.

"The fact that it's the Red Sox makes it even more interesting. ... It speaks to the division's strength."
-- Rays manager Joe Maddon, on the impending ALCS matchup

"In a seven-game series, you truly have to play it one game at a time, regardless of what happens," Maddon said. "Momentum is always as strong as your starting pitcher is the next day. So, really we talk about one at time, it's really magnified at this particular juncture."

Throughout the regular season, the Rays and Red Sox produced many exciting moments. Maddon believes fans are in for more of the same in the ALCS.

"I think you expect a lot of what you saw during the regular season," Maddon said. "A lot of tight games, and both sides have good starting pitching and bullpens -- offensively, they probably have a little more hitting ability overall, but we have that ability to hit in the clutch. I just think you're going to see a lot of the same, what you saw during the year."

A nice aspect of where the Rays are heading into the ALCS is the fact their everyday lineup is intact and relatively healthy for the first time in a long time.

"We're getting all the components back," Maddon said. "Hitting Carl [Crawford] in the five hole is very intriguing with B.J. [Upton] starting to find his niche again -- that matters because now you have [Akinori Iwamura], him, Carlos [Pena] and [Evan Longoria], and I like Carl feeding into six, seven and eight, because those guys at the bottom, obviously, can really drive in a run."

Maddon later added: "It's all about the other team's pitching, and they have such good pitching, but right now I like our guys' at-bats -- they've been having good at-bats."

Both teams are familiar with one another, which Maddon said should balance out.

"It's pretty even based on the familiarity of the two groups," Maddon said. "The number of times we have played against each other. The fact we've broken through up there a little bit [with two wins at Fenway Park] and the fact they got their win down here [at Tropicana Field]. So it's really a very evenly balanced series."

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