Commentary

Tampa Bay won't go away, Yanks fans

Expecting the Rays to fade in the AL East? You could be in for a long wait

Updated: July 18, 2010, 12:49 AM ET
By Ian Begley | Special to ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- The Tampa Bay Rays have been too good for too long for Saturday's win in the Bronx to be seen as some kind of coming-of-age statement.

They're 20 games over .500 and own the best road record in baseball, so they are no longer going to sneak up on anyone.

But, if nothing else, Tampa's 10-5 drubbing of the New York Yankees showed again that the Rays aren't going away in the AL East race.

They trail the Yankees by two games in the division and have a chance to cut that deficit in half when David Price takes the mound against Andy Pettitte in the series finale Sunday afternoon.

[+] EnlargeCarlos Pena
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesCarlos Pena's Rays, the World Series runners-up two seasons ago, aren't going to just hand the AL East to New York.

And it sounds as if Price is pretty confident about Sunday's game -- and the remaining 72 on the schedule.

"Obviously [the Yankees] have a great team. I mean, everybody knows that," the All-Star said. "But the nine guys we run out there from day to day, I wouldn't take anyone else."

Hear that, Yankees fans?

The Rays' clubhouse was brimming with confidence after they banged around A.J. Burnett the Yankees' bullpen to the tune of 10 runs and 13 hits Saturday.

Carlos Peña tied a career high with four knocks, including a solo homer off Chad Gaudin in the eighth. Unheralded second baseman Reid Brignac hit two homers -- the first time he's done so in his 102 games in the big leagues. Brignac finished 3-for-5 with five RBIs, helping Tampa improve to 4-3 against the Yanks in 2010.

"We are a team that can put up competition against [the Yankees]," Rays catcher John Jaso said. "That is morale-boosting right there."

Rays manager Joe Maddon said he expected his young team to leave any negative vibe from Friday night's 5-4 loss at the clubhouse door. Nick Swisher won the series opener for the Yanks with an RBI single in the ninth.

"I'm not surprised that we bounced back," Maddon said. "We've grown in that regard."

"I think it's a great sign for us, for our mental strength, to put [Friday's] loss behind us," Peña added.

The Rays improved to 29-15 on the road. That includes a two-game sweep of the Bombers at Yankee Stadium in May in which they scored 18 runs.

So, given all of the Rays' recent success in the Bronx, reliever Grant Balfour was a bit taken aback when asked if this series gave his team a chance to make a statement to the Yankees.

"I don't think we have to show them we can play with them, or show anyone else," said Balfour, who got Derek Jeter to ground out with two on to end the eighth. "People know that we've got a pretty good team over here."

Tampa, which owns the second-best record in baseball, was in first place in the division for 59 straight days from April 22 to June 9. They've won 11 of their last 14, turning things around after a rough 12-20 stretch that ended late last month.

After Sunday afternoon's rubber game, the Rays have three series left against the Yankees -- which is plenty of time to make up for a small, mid-July deficit in the standings.

"Yea, I think we have a chance to win [the division]. I feel good about that," Peña said. "As long as we stay humble things will take care of themselves."

Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.

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