The Rays now need to beat the AL East champions and get help elsewhere in order to return to the postseason.
Tampa Bay begins the final three-game series of the regular season looking to turn the wild-card race into a dead heat Monday night when it faces the Yankees at Tropicana Field.
The Rays (88-71) are trying to become the first team to overcome a nine-game deficit in September to claim a playoff berth. They were that far back of Boston in the wild-card race heading into play Sept. 4, but have cut that deficit to just one game after a 13-8 surge.
The Red Sox have also done their part in a stunning collapse that includes losing 16 of 21, and will visit Baltimore for the final three games of the season.
Still, the Rays feel there’s more to the race than Boston’s tailspin.
“It’s more about the ascension of the Rays right now,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Obviously, they’re struggling a bit, and that happens. But from our perspective, it’s more important what we do. It’s fortuitous that they’ve had a hard time, but I love the fact that we’re taking care of business.”
Tampa Bay, though, had a chance to overtake Boston last week, but lost three in a row at New York (97-62) before winning the series finale 15-8 Thursday.
The Yankees clinched the division title in that series, and have already secured home-field advantage through the AL championship series. That could play into the Rays’ favor, especially after Yankees catcher Russell Martin(notes) expressed his disdain for Boston by stating last week that, “I hate the Red Sox.”
That dislike nearly pulled Tampa Bay into a tie with the Red Sox, but New York failed to complete a doubleheader sweep and fell 7-4 in 14 innings in Sunday’s nightcap after winning the first two games of the series.
The Rays took two of three from Toronto over the weekend, winning 5-2 Sunday.
“I know we have a tough team coming in, and we really have to play well,” Johnny Damon(notes) said. “It’ll be a tough go, but I think we’re feeling good about ourselves and fortunately for us, there’s no off-day.”
James Shields(notes) (15-12, 2.84 ERA) takes the mound for a second consecutive start against the Yankees. The right-hander allowed four runs and six hits with seven strikeouts in 7 1-3 innings of a 4-2 loss Wednesday in the opener of a doubleheader that saw the Rays get swept.
He was much better against them at home July 21, yielding one run in 7 2-3 innings of a 2-1 victory. However, he’s 2-5 with a 3.49 ERA in nine meetings at Tropicana Field.
New York has won six of eight and is preparing to face either Texas or Detroit in the opener of the divisional series Friday. That preparation may involve resting some key players.
“It’s something that we worked very hard for during the course of the season,” manager Joe Girardi told the team’s official website. “We’re still going to go out and play hard.”
The rookie right-hander has no record and a 2.08 ERA in four games against Tampa Bay.