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Yankees, Rays to square off again in AL East showdown

(Sports Network) – The New York Yankees showed the Tampa Bay Rays in Monday night’s series opener that they are not about to surrender the American League East’s top spot so easily.

New York will look to make it two games in a row over Wild Card-leading Tampa Bay and increase its 1 1/2-game edge on the Rays for first place in the division in tonight’s second contest of a four-game set at Yankee Stadium.

The Rays seemed to catch the Yankees’ eye last week when they took two of three from the defending World Series champions down in Florida, giving them an 8-6 edge in the season series and first place in the division.

However, Tampa Bay fell right out of first place with a loss to the Angels on Friday, and last night’s 8-6 setback to New York was its third setback in its last four games overall.

The Rays erased an early four-run deficit with a four-run top of the sixth inning last night, getting two-out RBI from Dan Johnson on a single and a bases-loaded walk drawn by B.J. Upton. The Yankees quickly responded with four runs of their own in the bottom of the inning, however, and never trailed again.

Curtis Granderson took advantage of an apparent mistake by Rays manager Joe Maddon in the frame, with the left-handed hitting Granderson smacking a three- run homer - his second long ball of the game that gave him a career high tying five RBI — off righty Grant Balfour, who had just been summoned from the bullpen.

“The fact that I’ve been able to compact the swing a little bit makes myself a little bit quicker,” Granderson said. “Therefore, I get myself a little out front of the ball. When we go ahead and keep ourselves compact the right way, that’s how the ball ends up being pulled with power and staying straight and not necessarily hooking balls foul and topping balls.”

Maddon had apparently meant to call for southpaw Randy Choate, but a miscommunication with the bullpen left only Balfour warming up.

“I was the only one warming up, so I didn’t know who else was going to go in,” Balfour admitted. “That’s not my call. That’s not my job. My job is to go out and pitch.”

Tampa Bay did make one last effort in the game, as Evan Longoria singled home a run off New York closer Mariano Rivera with two outs in the ninth inning before Rivera hit Johnson with a pitch to put the tying run on base. Rivera, though, got Matt Joyce to ground out for his 32nd save of the season.

In picking up their third victory in four games, the Yankees lowered their magic number towards clinching their 15th playoff berth in 16 seasons to five. The Rays’ stands at seven, as they lead the Wild Card race by 6 1/2 games.

Tonight’s matchup will feature a rematch between Tampa Bay’s James Shields and Phil Hughes of New York, the starters from last Wednesday’s matchup between the teams in St. Petersburg.

Hughes was credited with the loss after allowing a pair of two-run homers to Johnson over 6 2/3 innings in the 4-3 setback. It marked his second straight losing start, and the 24-year-old has given up 10 runs and five homers in that span of 12 2/3 innings.

The right-hander, who has lost both of his starts versus the Rays this year, is 16-8 with a 4.31 earned run average this season and 2-3 with a 4.55 ERA lifetime versus Tampa Bay in nine games, including four starts.

Shields, meanwhile, did not factor into the decision of the one-run victory after allowing a run on eight hits with eight strikeouts over 6 1/3 innings. Still, it was progress for the 28-year-old, who had allowed 10 earned runs over 9 1/3 innings in a pair of road starts to begin September.

Shields is 13-12 with a 4.86 ERA this year and is aiming to match the career- best 14 victories he posted over 33 starts in 2008. The righty is 2-0 with a 2.51 ERA in five starts versus the Yankees this season and 3-7 with a 4.69 ERA in 14 lifetime starts against them.

Photographs by, thelastminute, turtlemom nancy , fesek, kthypryn, justinwright, sue_elias, pointnshoot, and scrapstothefuture used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.