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Bartolo Colon, Yankees Stand Between Rays And Possible Wild Card Lead

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(credit: Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

(credit: Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

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NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) – The Tampa Bay Rays’ collective confidence and belief keeps growing stronger every day.

Trying for a fourth consecutive victory overall, the Rays have a chance to take over sole possession of the AL wild card lead with a third straight win over the postseason-bound Yankees on Tuesday night at Tropicana Field.

Tampa Bay (89-71) won 5-2 over the Bombers on Monday to move into a tie for the wild-card lead with reeling Boston, which fell to 6-19 in September after losing at Baltimore. The Rays have won 15 of 23 since trailing the Red Sox by nine games on Sept. 2.

“We’re really into it,” manager Joe Maddon said. “We feel good about this. We like our chances.

“There’s a real strong believability about what we’re trying to accomplish right now but when you get to this point, you really want to finish things off.”

While the Rays continue to keep tabs on Boston, they remain focused on themselves.

“At the end of the day we have to win our own games and not worry about anybody else,” Maddon said.

Though New York (97-63) has secured home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs, manager Joe Girardi says he will play each game of the series to win while trying to set his lineup for Friday’s ALDS opener. The only starters not in the lineup Monday were Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher.

“We have to be smart,” Girardi said.

B.J. Upton had two hits with two RBIs for the Rays, who have totaled 16 runs during the three-game winning streak.

Upton is 5 for 11 during that stretch with three RBIs and batting .381 with 19 RBIs in his last 22 contests. He’s 11 for 26 with five RBIs in his last six versus New York and 6 for 18 with a homer against scheduled starter Bartolo Colon (8-10, 4.02 ERA).

Possibly pitching for his postseason future, Colon allowed seven runs – five earned – in three innings of a 15-8 loss to Tampa Bay on Thursday to fall to 0-4 with a 5.58 ERA in nine starts since beating Baltimore on July 30.

The defeat also dropped the right-hander to 0-3 with a 6.60 ERA against the Rays this season.

“I just need to keep working hard and keep going out and try to do better next time,” Colon told the Yankees’ official website.

With CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova slotted for the first two spots in the playoff rotation and either A.J. Burnett or Freddy Garcia in position to be the No. 3 starter, Colon has not made his case to earn a spot as a reliever in the opening round or the No. 4 spot if the Yankees reach the ALCS.

“There is some concern there, and we’ll just continue to evaluate it moving forward,” Girardi said.

Robinson Cano homered and had two of New York’s six hits in the opener. The star second baseman is 10 for 25 with two homers and six RBIs in his last seven games versus Tampa Bay. He’s 5 for 9 with two doubles and two home runs against scheduled starter Jeremy Hellickson (13-10, 2.90), who faces New York for the second time in as many starts.

The right-hander is 2-0 with a 2.28 ERA in his last four starts, and did not get much support while he allowed two runs and two hits – including a homer to Cano – in seven innings of a 4-2 loss at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday.

Hellickson is 1-1 with a 3.93 ERA in three starts versus New York in 2011.

Who will take the wild card: Red Sox or Rays? Make your prediction below…

(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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