© 2007 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

09/27/07 1:45 AM ET

Playoffs secured, Yanks start Hughes

New York (91-67) at Tampa Bay (65-93), Thursday, 7:10 p.m. ET

The Yankees showed a little grit on Wednesday night in bouncing back from Tuesday's nerve-wracking 10-inning loss to the Devil Rays and in doing so clinched their 13th consecutive postseason berth. Now that a trip to the playoffs is assured, New York is free to change focus.

Its sights are now set on a division title.

It won't be easy -- the Red Sox have a three-game lead in the American League East with just four games to play. A lot of the suspense of who will win division bragging rights is left up to chance, but the Yankees are sure of one thing: If they don't win the division, it will be because the Red Sox won, not any longer because the Bronx Bombers lost.

"People talk about the division, they talk about the Wild Card," shortstop Derek Jeter said. "We wanted to play every day. We weren't concerned about what we were going for. You use the Wild Card as a crutch. This year, right now, we have to use that crutch."

Boston managed to retain its stronghold on the AL East on Tuesday night with an 11-6 drubbing of Oakland at Fenway Park, where the Red Sox will take on the Twins for four games at a place they've won at a .596 clip (47-28) this season.

Winning the AL East would be icing on the cake -- no one is arguing that. Regardless of what happens down the stretch, Alex Rodriguez said that he and his teammates will still carry their heads high as they tread the postseason waters.

"We never knew how hard this was going to be in Spring Training," Rodriguez said. "We've overcome a lot of adversity, and I'll tell you, a lot of people counted us out, and to be where we are right now, we have a lot to be proud of."

The Red Sox's magic number is two entering Thursday, meaning that any combination of New York losses and Boston wins adding up to two will hand the Red Sox the AL East championship. It's something the Yankees can't control completely, but sending Phil Hughes to the mound for Thursday's series finale certainly won't hurt their chances.

Lately, Hughes has been the Yankees' rock. Coincidence or not, New York is 4-0 during Hughes' last four starts and has scored an average of 9.75 runs in his defense during that span.

The rookie's last start wasn't his cleanest, and he hit the showers after 89 pitches and just five innings against the Jays. He allowed three runs in the contest and was let off the hook when his teammates scored 12 runs, but New York is still looking for Hughes to keep his pitch count down early so that he can work deeper in games.

Tampa Bay will counter with 23-year-old lefty Scott Kazmir, who has risen to the occasion in the majority of his high-stakes starts. Kazmir is having a banner year so far, having achieved career highs in starts (33), wins (13), innings pitched (200 2/3) and strikeouts (229), and he enters Thursday's start trailing the Twins' Johan Santana by six strikeouts in the race for the AL lead.

Much like Hughes, Kazmir's last start was more abbreviated than he might like, as he left after five innings. Kazmir held the Red Sox to three runs (two earned) in five innings and fanned nine, scattering four hits and walking four to take the loss. It was his first loss in more than a month, spanning a period over which Kazmir went 4-0 with a 3.00 ERA.

Pitching matchup
NYY: RHP Phil Hughes (4-3, 4.80 ERA)
Hughes has held right-handed hitters to a .214 average this season.

TB: LHP Scott Kazmir (13-9, 3.54 ERA)
Kazmir has a 3.19 career ERA at Tropicana Field.

Player to watch
Jorge Posada is 8-for-17 (.471) in his career against Kazmir, with two doubles, a homer, two walks and five RBIs.

 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television

On radio
• WCBS, 92.7 WQBU (Español)

Up next
• Friday: Yankees (Mike Mussina, 11-10, 4.96) at Orioles (Jon Leicester, 2-3, 6.51), 7:05 p.m. ET
• Saturday: Yankees (Andy Pettitte, 14-9, 3.81) at Orioles (Daniel Cabrera, 9-17, 5.36), 7:05 p.m. ET
• Sunday: Yankees (Kei Igawa, 2-3, 6.25) at Orioles (Brian Burres, 6-7, 5.66), 1:35 p.m. ET

Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.