After topping Tampa Bay in the series opener Tuesday, New York's magic number to clinch a postseason berth fell to two, and when the Red Sox fell to the Orioles moments later, the magic number for a division crown dropped to three.
"I know if we go out there and play our game, everything is going to take care of itself," Yankees right fielder Nick Swisher said about the possibility of clinching something tomorrow. "It's just a matter of time, and it's something we want to achieve. It's something we've all got our minds set on."But the Rays, trailing the Red Sox by two games in the AL Wild Card race with nine games to play, still have a lot to say about what happens.
"Obviously, we want to be in a little better position than we are. But we are the hunters. And we take that in stride," said Rays right-hander James Shields, who will start Game 1 on Wednesday. "We want to win every game. We're playing for something. ... It's exciting."The Yankees' scheduled Game 1 starter, Phil Hughes, continued to feel the effects of back spasms Wednesday morning and was replaced by rookie Hector Noesi, making his first Major League start.
Noesi, 24, has pitched in 28 games and has a 4.01 ERA in 51 2/3 innings, mostly in long relief. He was a starter throughout his six Minor League seasons. He has allowed three hits and struck out seven in six scoreless innings of work against the Rays.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he expects the Rays to fight until the end behind Shields and the rest of the starting rotation."They've done a tremendous job of getting back in this race," Girardi said of Tampa Bay's starters. "They've won a lot of series lately, and they're a talented group." Shields took the loss his last time out in a key four-game series against the Red Sox, but said he's ready to once again take the ball in a big game. The right-hander is 1-2 with a 1.59 ERA in three starts against the Yankees this season. "I'm going to go in with a mindset that I'm going to try and win the game and keep us in the game as long as I can," Shields said. "Go in there and try and pitch like I've been pitching. I feel really good about my outing last time." The nightcap, set to begin at 7:05 p.m., will pit Rays rookie Jeremy Hellickson against Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia. Hellickson allowed only one run in his last outing, but struggled with his fastball command. On Wednesday, he'll face a disciplined Yankees squad that roughed him up for four runs in 4 1/3 innings the last time he faced them. Hellickson, 24, said he's ready for the rematch. "I struggled last time against these guys, so I'm looking forward to getting back out there and pitching like I know I can," Hellickson said. "I've rebounded since that start in my last two. But it's nice to get back out there against the same team I struggled against." Sabathia, coming in with a 19-8 record, is in familiar territory as he seeks victory No. 20. The Yankees' left-hander is going for his 20th win against the Rays for the third consecutive year. He's lost both times prior, falling, 13-4, at Tropicana Field in 2009, and taking a no-decision last year in a 1-0 Rays win at Yankee Stadium. Sabathia allowed five runs in eight innings the last time he faced the Rays this season, and he is 1-2 with a 2.52 ERA in three starts against them this season. Rays: Double duty
Manager Joe Maddon said Tuesday several notable players likely will start both games of Wednesday's doubleheader, specifically mentioning third baseman Evan Longoria and outfielders Desmond Jennings and B.J. Upton. "We're probably going to have to," Maddon said. "That's why that day off [Monday] was so vital. It's not going to be too hot. There's a threat of rain, and all of that stuff, for two days. I think our guys will be physically fine to play two." Monday's twin bill is Tampa Bay's 19th doubleheader in club history and third of the year. The Rays are 1-0-1 in doubleheaders this season. Yankees: Sox fans rooting for Yanks?
Crazy things happen when postseason berths are on the line, like Red Sox fans cheering for the Yankees to beat the Rays. If you find that comical, you're not the only one. "That's almost as funny as hearing people cheer for our guys to make outs in the eighth inning [Monday]," Girardi said, referring to the crowd's excitement surrounding Mariano Rivera becoming baseball's all-time saves leader. "It's something that you don't ever think that you're going to get to. But I understand that. I'm cheering for our club, that's who I'm cheering for. I want our guys to go out and play well this week, and let's see what happens." Worth noting
Sabathia is the only pitcher to have gone for win No. 20 against the Rays and failed. New York's David Cone (1998), Toronto's Roy Halladay (2003), New York's Andy Pettitte (2003), Boston's Curt Schilling (2004) and Boston's Josh Beckett (2007) all accomplished the feat. The Rays have a 3.63 ERA against the Yankees but have batted only .227, a good reason for their 5-7 record against New York this year. Tampa Bay has won 24 consecutive games when scoring five runs or more.