NEW YORK (AP) — The Tampa Bay Rays find themselves in prime position heading into the final four days of the regular season, leading the AL wild-card race by one game over Cleveland and two games ahead of Texas, which is trying to climb into one of the two berths.
A six-game winning streak hasn’t created much wiggle room. David Price ended a five-start winless streak and Evan Longoria hit two home runs on Wednesday’s 8-3 win over the New York Yankees, which maintained the Rays’ slim margin as they near their fourth postseason appearance in six years.
A 4-13 skid has been followed by an 11-3 spurt. Imagine where they’d be without it?
“We needed to. There really wasn’t a choice,” manager Joe Maddon said. “The guys have stepped up at this particular time, and the runs the past couple of games have been really great. Of course, the pitching has been good for a while.”
Tampa Bay would seal the berth with a combination of Rays wins or Rangers losses totaling three.
New York was mathematically eliminated during the eighth inning when Cleveland won its game against the Chicago White Sox. The Yankees failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and only the second time in 19 years.
“You want to play in these games against teams that are in the same position because they have something to play for, too,” Longoria said. “We couldn’t afford to go into a game against a team that didn’t have anything to play for and then come out and lose two out of three because we took it lightly.”
Price (9-8), the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, had been 0-3 since beating the Yankees on Aug. 24 — a winless skid one short of his career high. Backed by an offense that produced 15 hits, he gave up two runs and six hits in seven innings, struck out eight and walked none. He threw first-pitch strikes to his first 12 batters and 22 of 27 overall.
“It’s what I’ve done really since I’ve come back — command of the strike zone,” said Price, sidelined from mid-May until July by a left triceps strain. “At times it’s helped me, and at times it’s hurt me.”
Longoria’s three-run homer off David Huff gave Tampa Bay a 6-2 lead in the sixth, and David DeJesus hit his second of the season on the next pitch.
DeJesus also had a tiebreaking single in a two-run third and has eight RBIs in his last seven games after driving in just two in his previous 42. Longoria finished with four RBIs, homering in the ninth off Preston Claiborne for his 31st of the season and ninth in 18 games this year against the Yankees. He has 12 homers and 32 RBIs at new Yankee Stadium to go along with a .301 average, and 25 home runs overall versus New York.
“I wish I could explain it,” he said. “I like hitting in this ballpark, and some people have their team that they just do well against. For the longest time, in the earliest part of my career, it was the Red Sox. Lately, it’s the Yankees.”
A night after taking the lead on Hiroki Kuroda’s third pitch of the game, Tampa Bay went ahead against Phil Hughes (4-14) when James Loney hit an RBI double on Hughes’ sixth pitch.
Robinson Cano doubled in a run in the bottom half, but the Rays took a 3-1 lead in the third on DeJesus’ single and Matt Joyce’s sacrifice fly. Eduardo Nunez homered leading off the third, but Longoria’s first homer broke open the game.
Next up in the tense stretch run is the series finale at Yankee Stadium, followed by a three-game series at Toronto.
“I’m really just focused on Thursday,” Maddon said. “I don’t want us to different or more than what we did tonight.”
NOTES: Somewhat appropriately on the day New York was eliminated, it was Charlie Brown bobblehead night. … The Yankees put LHP CC Sabathia on the 15-day DL retroactive to Saturday and activated DH Travis Hafner, who had been sidelined since late July with a rotator cuff strain. … In a home plate presentation by Jeter and Rivera, Pettitte was given a framed base from his final Yankee Stadium start Sunday, signed by the team.