Tampa lets two slip away
Yankees sweep for AL East title
NEW YORK - As the outcome of the Red Sox-Orioles game was posted on the scoreboard last night at Yankee Stadium, a cheer rose from the crowd. It wouldn’t have been surprising if the same cheer came from the visitors’ dugout.
“I heard the cheer, then I looked up,’’ said Rays manager Joe Maddon. “And it was good. It was good news.’’
The news from Maddon’s club wasn’t as good. The Yankees and Rays were in the seventh inning of a tie game, one the Rays needed to win to atone for squandering the first game of their doubleheader in the Bronx. The Sox had helped the Rays yet again, and the question was whether the Rays were going to help themselves.
They didn’t, allowing the go-ahead runs in the eighth inning for a second time in one day, and leading to a celebration in the home clubhouse. With the sweep, scores of 4-2 in both games, the Yankees clinched the American League East title.
The losses left the Rays two back of the Sox in the loss column, losing ground on a day when the Sox suffered yet another dispiriting defeat. It also left the Rays tied with the Angels in the wild-card chase, 2 1/2 games back.
“Absolutely, you feel lucky,’’ Maddon said. “We’re very fortunate that Baltimore has played as well as they have. They’ve played well against us also. We’re very fortunate. We’ve never done anything easily, so let’s do this in a more difficult manner.’’
In the first game, it was a changeup to Eduardo Nunez that proved costly, what Rays righthander James Shields thought was a good pitch that Nunez deposited over the left-field fence for just his fifth home run of the season, tying the game at 2. That was followed by a two-run double by Robinson Cano. In the second game, it was a single by pinch hitter Jorge Posada that plated two runs after the Rays couldn’t score with the bases loaded and one out in the top half of the eighth inning.
Really, though, it wasn’t the Rays’ pitching. It was their offense. The Rays haven’t been able to score consistently.
“We’ve scored four [runs] in three games, so therein lies our problem,’’ said Maddon. “We pitched great again, we did a lot of things well, we just have to get the offense to step up for these last seven games. We win tomorrow, we can go home down two. Not an impossible task.’’
The Rays were, as Maddon noted, fortunate the Orioles helped out once again. They have had their chances, have been on the brink of wins over the last couple of days, and haven’t been able to make it happen.
“Every time you lose a game you’re missing an opportunity,’’ Rays designated hitter Johnny Damon said after the first game. “The offense, including myself, just not good at all today. It felt like we should have won and we didn’t. Put our backs up against the wall a bit more.’’
The Rays’ quest would seem unlikely, except that the Red Sox are playing their worst baseball of the season. With one more game in this series, the Rays have a chance return to St. Petersburg, Fla., for the final six games of the season down by only two games, even having dropped three straight to New York.
“We’re definitely not out of it,’’ said Matt Joyce, who thought he had held up on a checked swing that ended the nightcap with a runner on second base. “We’re not playing terrible baseball. We’re putting up good games. The Yankees are tough.
“We’ve got to come back tomorrow and, like we’ve said before, we understand what we have to do. Right now our backs are against the wall. We have to see what the team is made of.’’
Because there are still chances. While the odds are growing slimmer, the Rays know that if they can get back to winning, the wild card is not an impossibility.
“We’ve still got a good shot,’’ Shields said. “We’ve got to come out and win games. That’s what we have to do this whole time. It was a tough two losses right here. We’ve got to grind it out. We’ve done it in September, we did it in August. No reason why we can’t do it now.’’