After Yankee Stadium hosted 37 World Series and numerous other October epics, it hardly seems fitting that the last homestand
at the 85-year-old ballpark will begin with the
New York Yankees
in fourth place in the AL East - and the visiting
Tampa Bay Rays
atop the division.
Instead of New York battling for a 14th consecutive postseason berth, it will be the Rays chasing their first AL East crown
on Friday night when the teams open a three-game set with the first of 10 remaining games at the storied stadium.
A mainstay in the Bronx since 1923, Yankee Stadium has compiled perhaps a richer history than any other ballpark, but until
this season, the Yankees never hosted a Tampa Bay club holding down first place in September.
Thanks to a pair of tight victories in Boston, that's exactly where the Rays (87-57) stand. After losing six of seven to see
their lead over the
slip to one-half game, they trailed 4-3 in the ninth inning at Fenway Park on Tuesday and seemed about to slide into second
place for the first time since the All-Star break.
But a rally off
gave Tampa Bay a 5-4 win, and the Rays outlasted Boston in a 4-2, 14-inning victory Wednesday, padding their lead to 2 1/2
games over the
's three-run home run in the final inning broke a long stalemate after the teams had played 10 straight scoreless innings.
"I'd like to believe, and I actually do believe, that we will carry these two games over," Rays manager Joe Maddon told his
team's official Web site. "I believe we shall. We're in a good place right now."
The Rays could get even better over the weekend, with
possibly set to return after missing five weeks due to a broken wrist. The rookie third baseman had 22 home runs and 71 RBIs
in 104 games before the injury.
Tampa Bay also has to like its chances with
on the mound.
was originally slated to start Friday, with Garza going Saturday, but the right-handers were switched as the Rays line up
their rotation for the stretch run.
Garza (11-9, 3.55 ERA) took a hard-luck loss at Toronto on Sunday, allowing the lone run while working seven innings in a
1-0 defeat. It was the fifth time in 10 starts since the All-Star break that he has worked at least seven innings and allowed
one or fewer runs.
In each of the other five starts, however, Garza has allowed at least four earned runs, including once against New York (77-69).
After pitching seven shutout innings in a 7-1 win against the Yankees on May 12, he gave up six runs - four earned - in five-plus
innings of a 7-2 loss on Sept. 2.
New York has been one of the few clubs to handle Tampa Bay this season, winning nine of 15 meetings. The Rays have also lost
their last four games at Yankee Stadium, where they are 25-63 all-time.
Still, none of that changes the fact that the Yankees are 11 games behind Tampa Bay and 8 1/2 back of Boston for the wild
card, making them almost certain to miss the playoffs for the first time since 1993.
"It's a bad feeling, especially when you work so hard to prepare yourself for the season and really prepare yourself for October,"
said. "Obviously, people think we're out of the playoffs and guys think they're out of the playoffs, but I'd hope they would
play for some pride."
's struggles have not helped the Yankees as they've failed to launch a late-season push. While he beat Seattle 7-4 on Saturday
after allowing three runs in six innings, Ponson (8-5, 5.10) has an 11.49 ERA in his last four starts, allowing 29 hits in
15 2-3 innings.
The Yankees stumble home after losing five of the last seven on a 10-game road trip, with the finale - a 4-2 loss to the Angels
- helping Los Angeles clinch the AL West on Wednesday. Due to an injury-riddled rotation and a spotty offense, New York is
19-24 since July 27.
After this series, the
Chicago White Sox
visit the Bronx for four games before Baltimore comes in for three, with the last contest at the stadium to be played on Sept.