The Tampa Bay Rays are trying to make the chase for the AL East title more than a two-team race.
Tampa Bay (78-66) was just swept in a three-game set at Baltimore and had lost four of its previous six at Yankee Stadium before David Price threw seven strong innings and his teammates scored three times in the fifth en route to a 6-4 win Friday.
“That was a big game for us, facing CC (Sabathia) and that lineup,” said Price, who became the AL’s first 18-game winner. “We were up to the task.”
The Yankees (81-63) remained tied atop the East thanks to the Orioles’ loss in Oakland, while the Rays pulled to within three of the division’s co-leaders.
Though Tampa Bay has struggled to consistently score runs this season, it’s averaged 5.0 while winning six of its last eight against the Yankees. B.J. Upton, who hit his 23rd homer Friday, is batting .357 (10 for 28) with four home runs and six RBIs in that stretch.
All five of Upton’s hits in his last 24 at-bats overall have gone for solo home runs.
Shields (14-8, 3.71 ERA) has won his last two outings versus New York despite a 4.20 ERA, but is 0-5 with a 4.78 ERA in six starts at Yankee Stadium since winning there May 20, 2010. He allowed seven runs and walked four in five innings of a 7-0 loss June 5 to fall to 2-8 with a 5.28 ERA in 12 starts in the Bronx.
However, he is 6-1 with a 1.90 ERA in his last eight starts overall. Shields posted his second complete game during that stretch Sunday when he gave up two hits and struck out eight in a 6-0 win over Texas.
“Obviously, September baseball is huge, and getting any kind of win is big,” the right-hander told the Rays’ official website.
Derek Jeter is hitting just .219 against Shields over the past two seasons, but he went 2 for 5 Friday to take sole possession of 10th place on baseball’s career hit list. Despite dealing with a sore ankle, Jeter is batting .426 (20 for 47) during a 10-game hitting streak.
New York’s Ivan Nova (11-7, 4.92) comes off the disabled list from a bout with shoulder tightness to make his first start since he allowed six runs - five on two homers - in six innings of a 7-3 loss at Chicago on Aug. 21.
Nova went 9-2 with a 4.03 ERA over his first 15 starts but is 2-5 with a 6.41 ERA in his last 10.
“This guy was really good for us for a substantial period of time, then he ran into some bumps, and we hope he’s beyond that,” manager Joe Girardi told the Yankees’ official website.
The right-hander is 0-2 with a 7.50 ERA in four home starts since he allowed a run and four hits in eight innings of a 4-1 victory over Tampa Bay on June 6.
Nova was 4-0 with a 2.82 ERA in six career starts against the Rays before he yielded six runs - three earned - in six innings of a 7-4 loss at Tropicana Field on July 3.