The New York Yankees know they got back into the AL East race by sweeping their archrivals. They also know they can play themselves out of it if they fail to maintain their focus as they open a three-game series against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on Friday at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees (75-59) capped a three-game sweep of the Red Sox with a 5-0 win Thursday as Chien-Ming Wang capped a dominant three days of pitching by his team’s starters. Wang carried a no-hitter into the seventh en route to his 16th victory, joining starters Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens in posting key wins that pulled New York within five games of first-place Boston.
“We need wins. I’d tell you the same thing if we just beat a high-school team three games in a row,” said Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who went 4-for-4 on Thursday and 7-for-11 in the series. “Now we have to play well against Tampa. Otherwise these games don’t mean anything.”
Thursday’s victory, coupled with Seattle’s loss, gave the Yankees a one-game lead over the Mariners in the AL wild card race.
Robinson Cano provided the big hits Thursday with a pair of home runs, and has battered Devil Rays pitching at a .413 clip this season, going 19-for-46 with two homers and nine RBIs. He went 11-for-18 (.611) with a homer and six RBIs in a four-game series against Tampa Bay from July 20-22.
Phil Hughes (2-2, 5.35) tries again to notch his first win since Aug. 10 as he faces the Devil Rays for the first time. The rookie right-hander is 0-1 with a 6.23 ERA in his last three starts, and was reached for five runs and three homers in six innings of a 5-4 loss to Detroit on Friday.
“We lost, so it was a bad start,” said Hughes, who had given up just two homers in his previous six starts. “That’s the only way you can look at it.”
The Devil Rays (54-80), one loss away from clinching their 10th non-winning season in as many years since entering the league in 1998, are playing arguably their best baseball of 2007. They enter Yankee Stadium fresh off sweeping a three-game set at Baltimore for the first time.
Tampa scored 28 runs in its three wins, including an 8-6 victory Thursday for its first road sweep in more than two years.
“We talked earlier about finishing strong, and certainly to come out and get these three games … it certainly sets us on the right track,” said Josh Wilson, who homered Thursday. “Now we go into New York, and hopefully we’ll play them tough and get on our way to finishing the season the way we want to and take it into next year.”
The Devil Rays have won six of seven overall, scoring 65 runs. But Tampa has won only three series in franchise history at Yankee Stadium, where the Rays are 21-58 all-time.
Andy Sonnanstine (3-9, 6.38) tries to win consecutive starts for the first time in his career. The rookie right-hander limited the Oakland Athletics to two runs in five innings of a 7-4 victory Sunday for his first home win after going 0-5 in his first seven starts at Tropicana Field.
He is 2-4 with a 6.24 ERA in eight road starts, giving up 10 homers in 49 innings.