The Rays successfully carried the momentum gained from their series sweep of the Orioles into the Bronx on Tuesday, and they’ll try to improve their standing atop the American League Wild Card race against the Yankees on Wednesday night.
After scuffling through the early part of September, Tampa Bay has won 10 of its last 14 contests, including Tuesday’s 7-0 decision in the series opener.
Tuesday’s loss dropped the Yankees to five games behind Cleveland for the AL Wild Card’s second spot, and with just five games remaining, one more loss or an Indians victory will eliminate New York from postseason contention.
Rays lefty David Price will make his final start of the regular season, seeking his first win since Aug. 24. Whether due to a lack of run support or his own inability to pitch deep into games, Price has not been able to rediscover the groove he enjoyed for much of July and August.
Price, though, is confident this will not be his last appearance of 2013.
"What are we going to do, lose the next six games?" Price said before Tuesday’s game. "No, I hope not. I think everybody in here is set on us going to the playoffs. We’ve put ourselves in a position to control our own destiny."
Yankees starter Phil Hughes, meanwhile, will be filling in for CC Sabathia, whose season is over due to a strained left hamstring. Hughes could be relieved early in the game by long man David Huff.
The Red Sox made one statement against a division rival on their heels this weekend. Now the Rays will give Boston their best shot.
After taking three of four from the Yankees, who trail the Sox by 10 games in the American League East and are two games back of the second AL Wild Card spot, Boston will make a trip south to take on the Rays.
The Red Sox lead the Rays by 7 1/2 games in the division, but Tampa Bay is clinging to the second Wild Card spot — behind Texas, and ahead of Cleveland, Baltimore and New York — despite a 3-7 road trip out West.
"We’ve got enough baseball left. We’re still in a position to make the postseason," said Tampa Bay ace David Price, who will start Tuesday. "We still control our own destiny. That’s a big thing for a team right now, in September. For us to have put ourselves in the position we’re in right now is very big."
Clay Buchholz, who hasn’t pitched in a big league game since June 8, threw a bullpen session Sunday and will start Tuesday’s series opener.
"Everything was good," Buchholz said Sunday of his bullpen session. "I threw all my pitches. Curveball was probably the sharpest pitch I threw, and that’s usually the last one I get the feel for in Spring Training. I threw everything: Cutter, sinker, fastball. It all felt fine."
The right-hander is expected to throw 75-80 pitches against the Rays, who have gone 4-11 since Aug. 25. Tampa Bay’s AL Wild Card lead has dropped from five games to just two over Baltimore and Cleveland and 2 1/2 over New York.
Price can help start the series off on the right foot, after taking his seventh loss of the season in his latest start against the Angels. He gave up six runs on 11 hits Thursday, and he has a 2-4 record and 3.76 ERA at Tropicana Field this season.
But the lefty has good success against the Red Sox this year, with a 2-1 mark and 2.55 ERA in four starts.
"He’s throwing the ball great," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "There’s not a thing wrong about the way he’s throwing the baseball. His stuff has been fabulous. I’m just looking for all of this to come together at the right time. We’re going through a tough moment right now on the other side of the country. Get back to our home cooking, our own beds, get that vibe going again and finish strongly and take it into October, that’s how I’m seeing it right now."
Buchholz is 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA, but he was sidelined due to neck and shoulder issues.