ST. PETERSBURG (AP) – The New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays have played a pair of games that have generated a playoff-like atmosphere at Tropicana Field.
With another five meetings in the next nine days, the AL East rivals will probably make the race for the division title even more entertaining.
After splitting two extra-inning games, the Yankees and Rays conclude their current series Wednesday night.
New York came to Tampa with a half-game lead before the Rays won 1-0 in 11 innings Monday night to move into first. Cy Young contenders CC Sabathia and David Price each pitched eight strong innings before Reid Brignac homered leading off the 11th.
The Yankees returned the favor Tuesday night, winning 8-7 in 10 to end a season-high four-game losing streak and regain the top spot in the division. New York blew a 6-0 lead and needed Jorge Posada’s leadoff pinch-hit homer in the 10th to come away with its second victory in nine games.
“That’s a huge home run for us,” manager Joe Girardi said. “On a road trip where we’ve had some real disappointing losses, that’s a huge, huge win.”
Tampa Bay (87-57) lost for the sixth time in 10 games.
“It was a great game once again,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I loved the way we played. It just didn’t work out in the end.”
Tampa Bay is 7-6 this season against New York, which will host the Rays for four games starting Monday.
“I’ve been saying all along it’s going to go back and forth,” Maddon said of the race for the division title. “There’s no reason to believe any of these games will be easy.”
New York (88-57) will now turn to Phil Hughes, who had his start at Texas on Sunday skipped as the Yankees plan to limit his innings and keep him fresh down the stretch in his first full season as a major league starter.
Hughes (16-7, 4.26 ERA) did pitch one inning of relief Friday against the Rangers, bringing his total to 156 1-3. The 24-year-old right-hander threw 86 innings in the majors last year, mostly in relief, and his previous high as a pro was 146 at Class-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton in 2006.
Hughes is 1-2 with a 7.98 ERA over his last three starts and 5-5 with a 5.37 ERA since the All-Star break. He went 11-2 with a 3.65 ERA in the first half of the season.
“If anything, I’ll be thrown back into rhythm,” Hughes told the Yankees’ official website. “I’ve kind of been out of rhythm for a while. Maybe it’ll change something.”
Hughes lost 3-2 at Tampa Bay on July 30 after allowing three runs over six innings.
He’ll be opposed by another struggling starter in James Shields (13-12, 4.98). The right-hander has a 9.64 ERA while going 0-1 in his last two starts – both on the road.
Shields, though, is 4-1 with a 2.76 ERA in his last five starts at Tropicana Field. He allowed four hits and struck out 11 over 7 1-3 innings to outpitch Sabathia in a 3-0 home win Aug. 1, moving to 2-0 with a 2.77 ERA in four starts against the Yankees this season.
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