The New York Yankees need just one more win to clinch their 13th consecutive postseason appearance. They’ll go for that victory in the opener of a three-game series against the last-place Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Tropicana Field on Tuesday.
New York (90-66) has won 14 of its last 18 games, but settled for a split of its four-game series against Toronto when it dropped the finale 4-1 on Monday. In the last regular season game at Yankee Stadium this year, the Yankees managed only six hits, missing an opportunity to pull within a game of Boston for the AL East lead for the first time since April.
“We weren’t anything offensively today,” manager Joe Torre said.
The Yankees, who trailed Boston by as many as 14 1/2 games in late May, fell two games behind the idle Red Sox with Monday’s loss. New York has three games at Baltimore remaining after this series, while Boston closes the regular season with a six-game homestand against Oakland and Minnesota.
However, Detroit’s 2-0 loss to Minnesota on Monday night means the Yankees have clinched at least a tie for the AL wild card. New York, which leads the Tigers by 5 1/2 games, will secure its 13th straight playoff berth with its next win or another Detroit loss.
The Yankees expected to have Roger Clemens on the mound Tuesday to try and pitch them into the playoffs, but the veteran right-hander was scratched from his start because of a lingering left hamstring injury. In his place, New York will go with Kei Igawa (2-3, 6.75 ERA), who has struggled during his first season with the Yankees and was sent to the minors July 27. He was recalled Sept. 9 after rosters expanded.
Igawa has made only 11 starts this season, but two of them have come against the Devil Rays. He last faced them July 21, giving up two runs and seven hits with six strikeouts and three walks in five innings of New York’s 7-3 home victory. The left-hander, who didn’t get the decision in that game, was pounded in his first start against Tampa Bay, getting reached for seven runs and eight hits in 4 1-3 innings of a 10-8 loss at Tropicana Field on April 23.
The Devil Rays (64-92) helped the Yankees’ cause Sunday when they snapped a five-game skid with a 5-4 victory over the Red Sox. Rookie right fielder Delmon Young went 3-for-4 with a home run and two RBIs as Tampa Bay won for just the third time in its last 12 games.
Young is batting .294 with 13 home runs, 93 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. He’s 21-for-63 (.333) against the Yankees.
“You put the whole picture together, tie the whole thing into a bundle, and I think he’s Rookie of the Year,” manager Joe Maddon told the Devil Rays’ official Web site. “Talk about offense, talk about defense, he’s stolen bases this year. He’s playing a complete game for us.”
Tampa Bay will send Jason Hammel (2-5, 5.88) to the mound for the series opener. The right-hander has held opponents to two runs or fewer in each of his last four starts, but has just one win in that span - he beat the Yankees 8-2 on Sept. 2.
Hammel allowed only two runs over six innings against the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday, but suffered the 2-1 defeat.
“He’s been pitching really well lately,” Maddon said. “We’ve made some adjustments with him mechanically, and he’s turned into more of a strike thrower. His velocity’s picked up a bit and his composure’s good.”
Hammel is 1-1 with a 5.52 ERA in five career games - three starts - against the Yankees.
New York holds an 8-7 edge over Tampa Bay in the season series.