It hasn’t been easy, but the Tampa Bay Rays know they will finish one of their toughest road trips of season still leading the AL East.
The Rays look to win their final series at Yankee Stadium when they conclude the trip and a three-game set with New York on Sunday afternoon.
Tampa Bay (88-58) enters this contest after splitting a day-night doubleheader with New York on Saturday, winning 7-1 before falling 6-5 in the nightcap. The latest loss snapped a three-game winning streak for the Rays, who fell to 3-5 on their nine-game trip that started by being swept at Toronto before taking two of three from second-place Boston.
“We put ourselves in a position to win, but we made mistakes that we usually don’t make,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said of Saturday’s overall effort.
The Rays started the trip with a 3 1/2-game lead in the division and now own a two-game lead over Boston, which split a doubleheader with Toronto on Saturday. The Red Sox open a three-game series at Tampa Bay on Monday.
In Saturday’s first contest, James Shields threw eight scoreless innings and Evan Longoria went 2-for-5 with two RBIs for Tampa Bay. Longoria, who returned after missing more than a month with a broken wrist, was 3-for-6 with three RBIs on the day
“It’s like riding a bike,” said the rookie All-Star of his return.
Tampa Bay’s Ben Zobrist hit a grand slam in the second game and is 4-for-9 with three doubles and five RBIs in his last three contests.
The Rays are 3-5 at Yankee Stadium this season and 26-64 all-time at the park that’s in its final season before the team moves across the street to a new version.
The Rays get their second look in 12 days at New York’s Carl Pavano (2-1, 5.31 ERA), who tries to avoid a second straight loss in his fifth start since returning from Tommy John surgery.
Pavano allowed three runs in four innings but didn’t factor in the decision of an 8-4 win over Tampa Bay on Sept. 3. In his most recent outing, he allowed five runs and six hits in 5 1-3 innings of a 12-1 loss to the Los Angeles Angels on Monday.
“I just wasn’t making the pitches I wanted to make,” Pavano told the Yankees’ official Web site.
The right-hander is 3-2 with a 3.77 ERA in seven starts versus the Rays.
Tampa Bay counters with Edwin Jackson (11-10, 4.06) as he looks to avoid a third straight loss after allowing all the game’s runs in the first inning of a 3-0 loss at Boston on Monday. He allowed eight hits in seven innings of the contest.
“I never found my comfort level (in the first inning),” Jackson told the Rays’ official Web site. “After that I calmed down, settled down.”
The right-hander is 1-2 with a 4.23 ERA in five starts this season versus New York and lasted only 3 1-3 innings after giving up six runs against Pavano and the Yankees earlier this month. Jackson is 2-3 with a 4.81 ERA in eight career starts against New York.
With 14 games remaining, the Yankees are nine games out of the wild-card race and 9 1/2 behind the Rays in the East.
“We can’t afford to lose any more games,” said Jeter, who went 6-for-7 on the day.
Jeter is batting .424 (14-for-33) in his last eight games against Tampa Bay and .364 (8-for-22) against Jackson.