Want to win vs. must win
This is a series the Yankees want to win and the Rays have to win. As for tonight’s pitching matchup, this says a lot: A.J. hasn’t lost since June 20; James Shields hasn’t won since June 20.
Shields was the Rays opening day starter. He’s 6-6 with nine no-decisions. He closed the first half with one win in his last six starts.
A.J. has been, in a word, dominant. Since that disaster in Boston on June 9, he’s gone 5-1 in seven starts and allowed a total of 10 earned runs.
We’re not always into numbers telling the whole story, but the performance of these two has gone a long way in the respective seasons of their teams.
A.J. also has made a habit out of getting out of self-induced jams, whether it’s a couple of walks or what he just did in the first inning – after his throwing error allowed Crawford to go from first to third with one out, he struck out Longoria and got Zobrist to fly out. (Even if Swisher made it a bit of an adventure.)
Hideki Matsui: Wonder what they’d call that slide in Japan. It was almost a belly flop in reverse. Like a butt flop. At the very least, it’s something his teammates will make fun of. Of course, they’ll also appreciate that he busted it from first to score on the Posada double.
The Rays: According to Elias, Tampa Bay’s .524 combined winning percentage of the teams remaining on its schedule is second-highest, behind the Jays. It’s going to be almost impossible for the Rays to duplicate last season’s magic. They do have 36 of their remaining 63 games at home, including tonight’s.
Michael Kay: He went with chicken fingers and fries from the concession stand for dinner. Kenny ate in the dining room. We had some fries, added onto Kay’s order. Somehow there are peaches, bananas and cherries in the booth, which is much healthier than the usual fare. Where are the Snickers?
CC and CC: We’ll be there Wednesday for “Catching up with Carl Crawford,” when Sabathia joins him for an event to encourage more African-American youth to play baseball. Both CCs are excited about it. We’ll have coverage on the BP and pregame shows.
Update (9:42 p.m.): Another thing about A.J.-Shields: A.J. entered the game with a 3.74 ERA. Shields’ was 3.70. Shields, for whom run support obviously has been an issue, lost two games in April despite giving up three or fewer runs. But more recently, Shields hasn’t been as stingy. In his last four starts, including tonight, Shields has given up 17 runs. A.J. has given up 16 earned runs in his last 11 starts.
It really does come down to pitching (and defense), doesn’t it? The Yankees are getting big pitching performances and the Rays aren’t. That’s the difference between these teams.