New York (AP) – The Tampa Bay Rays say they’re concentrated on winning the AL East, while the New York Yankees seem to be more interested in opening the postseason at full strength – wherever they may have to travel.
For now, they’re glad to be home.
A 3-6 road trip has sliced the Yankees’ lead over the Rays to one-half game heading into the rivals’ final regular season series, a four-game showdown that begins Monday night in the Bronx.
The Yankees’ late owner George Steinbrenner will be honored before the game with a ceremony in Monument Park.
Steinbrenner, who died at age 80 on July 13, will be just the sixth individual honored by the Yankees with a monument. Manager Miller Huggins was the first in 1932, joined by four players: Lou Gehrig (1941), Babe Ruth (1949), Mickey Mantle (1996) and Joe DiMaggio (1999).
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig was to be on hand to escort Steinbrenner’s widow, Joan, to Monument Park for the ceremony Monday night, a baseball official familiar with the planning told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity Sunday night because details had not been announced.
New York (90-59) and Tampa Bay (89-59) have boasted baseball’s two best records all summer, yet both have shown signs of weakness as the postseason draws closer.
But an 8-9 September for the Yankees and an 8-8 month for the Rays did little to affect them in the standings. Barring a miraculous turnaround by Boston – currently 6 1/2 games back of Tampa Bay – they’ll both be headed to the playoffs.
Even with baseball’s best road record (43-30), the Rays want to make sure any potential decisive game is at Tropicana Field.
“We want home-field advantage for all the reasons,” manager Joe Maddon told the Rays’ official website. “If you get there and end up playing Minnesota, their home record is (outstanding). And you don’t want to have to play an extra game up there – you’d rather play it down here. Yankee Stadium is the same way. Texas. Whatever way it shakes out, you’d rather play that extra game (at home).”
The Yankees’ three previous wild-card entries in the playoffs have resulted in immediate exits, but general manager Brian Cashman doesn’t seem concerned.
“You want to be macho and say, ‘American League East at all costs,’” Cashman told MLB.com. “Over time, you get educated. … I’ve been beaten by a wild-card Red Sox team in ’04. I’ve been beaten by the wild-card Florida Marlins in the World Series in ’03. I’m not saying, ‘Give me the wild card.’ I’m just saying we have to realize perspective. We’re in this to try to win a World Series.”
New York hasn’t looked too prepared for the postseason lately. The Yankees have lost 9 of 13 after falling 4-3 in 11 innings Sunday at Baltimore, where Mariano Rivera blew his second save in nine days.
The 3-6 trip cut two games off New York’s division lead.
“This was a tough road trip,” manager Joe Girardi said. “We have to go home, and that’s a good thing.”
Both Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira were held out of the starting lineup Sunday, though the stars figure to be back to face Matt Garza (14-8, 3.88 ERA).
The right-hander has plenty to prove after surrendering six homers over his last two starts. Rodriguez and Robinson Cano took him deep Tuesday, when Garza allowed six runs over 4 2-3 innings in an 8-7, 10-inning loss.
Rodriguez is 9 for 20 with two home runs off Garza, while Nick Swisher is 6 for 13 with three homers.
The Yankees and Rays played three one-run games in St. Petersburg last week, none as controversial as Wednesday’s finale. Shortstop Derek Jeter sold to the umpires that a Chad Qualls pitch in the seventh inning had hit him, later admitting that it struck his bat.
Maddon was ejected for arguing the call, and while Curtis Granderson’s ensuing two-run homer gave the Yankees a one-run lead, Tampa Bay rallied to win 4-3.
Maddon was more calm after the game.
“There’s several thespians throughout baseball,” Maddon said. “I thought Derek did a great job, and I applaud it, because I wish our guys would do the same thing.”
Maddon’s club is hitting .212 over its last seven games, an eight-day stretch that concluded with a 6-3 home loss to the Angels on Sunday.
The Rays didn’t have much trouble offensively against Ivan Nova (1-0, 4.30) in Tuesday’s loss, however. Tampa Bay roughed up the rookie for six runs over 4 2-3 innings, including a fifth-inning homer by Carlos Pena.
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