Coming off his best start of the season, Davis Wells looks to lead the New York Yankees to their sixth straight win as they take on the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the opener of a four-game series at Yankee Stadium.
The teams will play a doubleheader Saturday to make up a rainout from June 19.
After the AL East-leading Yankees were outscored 21-3 over the first two games of last weekend’s pivotal series against the Boston Red Sox, Wells restored order with a masterful outing as New York avoided the sweep.
The burly left-hander allowed one unearned run and five hits over 7 1-3 innings, striking out three and walking one.
“Boomer responds to challenges,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said. “There’s no bigger challenge since he’s been back here than this game. He certainly restored order.”
Bothered by back problems, Wells had entered the game 0-3 with a 6.43 ERA in his previous seven starts. During that time, the outspoken veteran was criticized by Torre and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre for his sluggish work ethic.
However, all was forgiven after his victory over Boston.
“I knew we needed a big game. I stepped up to the occasion and that’s something I haven’t been doing of late,” Wells said. “It’s a nice feeling to go out there and do that.”
The Yankees stretched their win streak to five with Thursday’s 5-2 win over the Detroit Tigers that completed a three-game set. Roger Clemens got his 307th victory, and Jorge Posada hit a go-ahead, two-run single for the Yankees, who increased their lead over the Red Sox in the division to four games—their largest cushion since Sept. 2.
The Devil Rays have lost two straight, including Thursday’s 3-1 setback to the Toronto Blue Jays.
Aubrey Huff drove in the lone run on a sacrifice fly for the Devil Rays, who were held to just five hits—two on bunt singles.
STANDINGS: Devil Rays - 5th place, 30 1/2 GB, AL East. Yankees - 1st place, AL East.
DEVIL RAYS PROBABLE STARTER: Victor Zambrano (10-8, 4.17 ERA). Zambrano ended a three-game losing streak with his effort in Sunday’s 11-2 win over Oakland. The right-hander, who hadn’t won since a 10-1 victory over Toronto on Aug. 4, tossed a two-hitter against the A’s for his first career complete game, striking out a season high-tying eight without issuing a walk. Zambrano is 2-2 with a 3.55 ERA in 15 career appearances, including six starts, against the Yankees.
YANKEES PROBABLE STARTER: Wells (13-6, 4.27 ERA). Wells has been stellar in his career starts against Tampa Bay, going 7-1 with a 2.75 ERA in 11 starts.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Devil Rays - Huff, .314 avg., 30 HRs, 98 RBIs and 81 runs; Carl Crawford, 48 SBs. Yankees - Derek Jeter, .325 avg.; Jason Giambi, 36 HRs; Hideki Matsui, 99 RBIs; Alfonso Soriano, 101 runs and 33 SBs.
SEASON SERIES: Yankees, 8-4.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Devil Rays - OF Huff is six RBIs shy of matching his total from 2001 and ’02 combined. … The Devil Rays’ 58 wins are already three more than they had all of last year. … OF Rocco Baldelli has hit safely in 11 of his last 15 games but is batting just .267 (16-for-60) during the stretch. Yankees - LHP Wells needs two victories to become the 99th pitcher in baseball history to win 200 games. … 2B Soriano is hitting .480 with three doubles, two homers and four RBIs in 25 career at-bats against RHP Zambrano. … The Yankees won a coin flip Thursday to host one-game playoff against Boston if needed to break a tie for the AL East title. If the teams tie, and the wild card comes from the AL East, the Yankees would win the division because they won the season series 10-9.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Devil Rays - 24-45 on the road; Yankees - 44-30 at home.
INJURIES: Devil Rays - SS Rey Ordonez (knee), 15-day DL; OF Ben Grieve (blood clot), 60-day DL; RHP Seth McClung (elbow), 60-day DL. Yankees - OF David Dellucci (ankle), 15-day DL; RHP Steve Karsay (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Jon Lieber (elbow), 60-day DL.