NEW YORK (AP) — Although nothing officially will be decided in the finale of a four-game series between the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays, the winning team would seem to have an advantage in the race for the AL East title.

With that, both clubs will turn to their aces.

Just over a week after engaging in an epic duel, AL Cy Young Award contenders CC Sabathia and David Price square off Thursday night in the last regular-season meeting between the Yankees and Rays.

Separated by one-half game when this series began, New York (92-60) now leads by 1 1/2 after taking two of the first three in the Bronx. The Yankees can move ahead 2 1/2 games with a victory, or the lead could go back to where it started if Tampa Bay (90-61) wins its second straight following Wednesday’s 7-2 victory.

Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria hit consecutive home runs for the Rays, and Dan Johnson added his third homer against New York in a week.

Although New York will still be ahead of the Rays regardless of Thursday’s outcome, a loss would hand Tampa Bay the season series – the first tiebreaker should the teams be equal after 162 games.

The Yankees would like to create as much distance as possible between themselves and the Rays, considering they have a much tougher schedule down the stretch. New York has six games left against Boston and three in Toronto, while Tampa Bay plays Seattle, Baltimore and Kansas City – three of the worst teams in the AL.

Before getting too concerned about the upcoming schedule, both offenses will have plenty to worry about in the finale.

Sabathia (20-6, 3.05 ERA) and Price met last Monday in St. Petersburg, Fla., and matched zeros through eight innings in the Rays’ 1-0, 11-inning victory. Sabathia allowed two singles and struck out nine, while Price (17-6, 2.79) gave up three singles and struck out four.

While much of the attention in this game will be on the two Cy Young Award hopefuls, Sabathia isn’t concerning himself with Price.

“I’m not facing him, I’m facing their lineup,” Sabathia told the Yankees’ official website. “I look to go out and put up zeros and try to get us a win. Every game is important right now, especially against these guys.”

Following his dominating performance at Tropicana Field, Sabathia allowed three runs and seven hits in seven innings during Saturday’s 11-3 victory at Baltimore, becoming a 20-game winner for the first time in his career. The left-hander leads the AL in victories and is sixth in ERA.

Despite recording a 1.84 ERA in four starts versus the Rays, only one of Sabathia’s wins this season have come against them. On April 10, he allowed one hit over 7 2-3 innings in a 10-0 victory in Florida.

Price, tied for third in the AL in victories and third in ERA, picked up where he left off after shutting down the Yankees, allowing one hit over six innings against the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday. He ran into a little trouble in the seventh, however, serving up a three-run homer to Juan Rivera before the Rays rallied to win 4-3 in 10 innings.

Still, Price is still 2-0 with a 1.55 ERA in four starts this month with Tampa Bay winning each time.

However, he’s 0-1 with a 4.91 ERA in four career appearances including three starts at Yankee Stadium. The loss came July 18 when Price permitted a season-high seven runs in five innings of a 9-5 loss.

Updated September 23, 2010
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