The New York Yankees barely extended their streak of AL East titles to eight in 2005, finally doing so on the second-to-last day of the season.
No team was more responsible for New York’s hard road to another division crown than the usually woeful Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
The Yankees (9-8) look to turn their fortunes around against their AL East rivals when the teams open their season series at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night.
Tampa Bay’s first season was 1998, the year New York began a run of three straight World Series championships, and the Yankees went on to regularly dominate the division’s perennial last-place team in its first eight years, going 80-31 against the Rays before last season.
That changed in stunning fashion in 2005, as Tampa Bay won 11 of 19 meetings, giving it the most victories in baseball against New York last year. The Yankees scored 17 or more runs three times in wins against the Rays and outscored them 130-115, but Tampa Bay won four of the six one-run games between the clubs.
One of the Rays that gave the Yankees trouble in 2005 was left-hander Scott Kazmir, who takes the mound Tuesday for his fourth start of the season. Kazmir (2-1, 4.07 ERA) went 1-1 with a 2.77 ERA against New York last year and won his only start at Yankee Stadium, pitching seven innings for a 5-3 victory on June 22.
Kazmir is coming off a strong performance at Boston on Thursday, throwing 5 2-3 innings and allowing four hits and one run with seven strikeouts in a 5-1 win.
He’ll be opposed Tuesday by right-hander Mike Mussina, who’s off to a strong start with a 2-1 record and 2.67 ERA. Mussina had his best performance of the season in his last outing, allowing one run with seven strikeouts in 7 1-3 innings of a 3-1 victory at Toronto on Wednesday.
Mussina will be trying to bring New York its third straight victory after the Yankees defeated Baltimore 7-1 on Sunday to take two of three from the Orioles. Jason Giambi homered twice and had five RBIs, and Randy Johnson cruised through eight innings for New York.
“This is the best I’ve felt in a while, putting on the Yankee uniform,” said Giambi, who is hitting .326 after a slow start dropped his average as low as .125. “My swing has felt good this year.”
Derek Jeter added three hits for the Yankees, who opened a nine-game homestand with the series against Baltimore.
While the Yankees hope Mussina can help them win three straight for the second time this season, the Rays hope their success against New York continues as they try to salvage some wins on their nine-game road trip. Tampa Bay (8-11) was swept in a three-game set at Texas over the weekend and has lost five of six on the trip.
Tampa Bay starters came into Sunday with a 6.35 earned run average.
“It’s just one of those things you have to program yourself to not worry about,” Tampa Bay’s Carl Crawford said. “It’s no reason to jump on our starting pitchers. We just have to go out and score more runs.”
Crawford is one of the players who could help the Rays do that Tuesday. He hit .407 (35-for-86) with 18 runs, 10 RBIs and seven stolen bases against the Yankees last year.
Another is Gomes, who batted .349 (15-for-43) with four homers, 13 RBIs, 12 runs and 10 walks against New York in 2005.
The teams continue their series Wednesday night.