The New York Yankees have finally surged ahead of the slumping Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East standings. Now they're seeking their first sweep of their division rival in more than two seasons.
CC Sabathia opposes David Price in a matchup of left-handed aces Thursday night when New York hosts Tampa Bay in the finale of a three-game set.
The Yankees have outscored the Rays 11-1 through the first two contests, winning 4-1 on Wednesday for their fourth victory in the last five meetings.
Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano homered for New York (31-24), which has won 10 of 13 to pass Tampa Bay (31-25) in the AL East for the first time since sharing the division lead with Toronto on April 23.
Yankees starters have a 0.74 ERA over the last three games - all victories - after Ivan Nova carried a shutout into the ninth inning Wednesday.
"Especially when everybody's pitching good, I don't want to be the guy behind," Nova said. "I want to be with those guys pitching good."
Sabathia (7-2, 3.68 ERA) will look to continue the trend.
The Yankees haven't swept the Rays since a four-game set that included a doubleheader Sept. 7-9, 2009, but New York has won a season-high four straight at home, where Sabathia is 3-1 with a 2.37 ERA this season.
He has won his last two starts - both on the road - settling down each time after some early problems. He allowed three runs through three innings Friday at Detroit but put up four scoreless after that in a 9-4 win.
"To get us through seven, you look up and he's at 70 pitches through three innings," manager Joe Girardi told the team's official website. "Similar to what he did in Oakland (in his previous start), he really seemed to find his rhythm after."
Sabathia allowed two unearned runs while striking out a season-high 10 over eight innings to beat Price and the Rays 5-3 on May 10 at Yankee Stadium.
That was only his third victory in 15 starts against Tampa Bay since joining the Yankees, although spotty run support has been the primary reason. Sabathia has a 3.62 ERA in that stretch.
Price's loss to Sabathia last month marked the first time in the six duels between the southpaws that Tampa Bay lost. It also was one of Price's worst outings of the season, as he allowed season highs of five runs and 11 hits over seven innings.
He's gone 2-1 with a 1.59 ERA in four starts since, though, giving up four hits in 7 1-3 innings of a 5-0 win over Baltimore on Friday.
Price (7-3, 2.44) gave up two runs in 6 1-3 innings to beat the Yankees on April 7, but he's just 3-3 with a 4.96 ERA in his last 10 starts in the series.
The Rays have lost six of eight overall and had only two hits entering the ninth inning Wednesday. They've scored either one run or none in three of their last four.
"A better game played on our part, even if we didn't win," manager Joe Maddon said, comparing it to Tuesday's 7-0 loss. "I thought we played better, we pitched better, we just did not hit."
Former Yankee Hideki Matsui went 0 for 4 and is 2 for 21 (.095) in his last five games in the Bronx.
New York has won 10 of the last 13 meetings at Yankee Stadium.