The New York Yankees will resume play after the All-Star break mourning two of the most important people in the history of the storied organization.
In the wake of the deaths of venerable public address announcer Bob Sheppard and bombastic owner George Steinbrenner, the Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays begin a weekend series pitting baseball's best teams on Friday night in the Bronx.New York (56-32) leads Tampa Bay (54-34) by two games in the powerful AL East, but all thoughts of baseball were put aside with the passing of the 99-year-old Sheppard on Sunday and the 80-year-old Steinbrenner on Tuesday.Sheppard started with the Yankees in April 1951 and worked his last game at Yankee Stadium in September 2007, when he became ill with a bronchial infection. He passed away in his Long Island home just months short of his 100th birthday.Sheppard was known for his stylish, elegant stadium introductions. Current captain Derek Jeter liked his so much that he had Sheppard record it for his at-bats to this day."Every time you hear it, you sort of get chills," Jeter said.Two days later, the Yankees lost the iron-fisted Steinbrenner, who owned the team since 1973 and presided over seven of the club's record 27 World Series titles. Known as "The Boss," Steinbrenner was feared for his hands-on management style yet also revered by his players."I think he's a father figure to everyone that was in our organization in the past or present, because he really took care of his players," Jeter said. "You know, whether it was a player that's on the team now or someone that played for a week 30 years ago."He really went out of his way to take care of the players."The Yankees will wear patches on their uniforms for the remainder of the season to honor Steinbrenner and Sheppard.Many people associated with the Yankees felt it was fitting that Steinbrenner lived to see New York end a nine-year championship drought in 2009. New York is counting on strong starting pitching in its bid to repeat, and ace CC Sabathia (12-3, 3.09 ERA) has certainly delivered.Sabathia has posted a 1.81 ERA in winning all eight starts since the beginning of June. He has given up four earned runs over his last 38 2/3 innings, allowing one over seven frames in Sunday's 8-2 win at Seattle."There's still a long way to go, still a lot of baseball left so I just wanna keep going," Sabathia said.The left-hander is 1-2 with a 4.35 ERA in five starts against the Rays since joining the Yankees.Tampa Bay is 3-2 against New York, sweeping two road games May 19-20. The Rays have won seven of eight overall, and are 10-1 on the road against AL East foes.James Shields (7-9, 4.87) will try to improve his 2-7 record and 5.54 ERA in 11 career starts against the Yankees. He beat them by allowing four runs over 7 1/3 innings in an 8-6 victory May 20."I'm happy that we're playing them right out of the gates," Shields told MLB.com. "We're right behind them right now and it's a good chance for us to pick up a couple of games on them."The right-hander is 1-8 with a 7.00 ERA in his last nine starts.