(Sports Network) - The New York Yankees will take the field this evening with heavy hearts as they start the second half of their season with the first of a three-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium.
Tonight's contest will be the first for the team since the death of owner George Steinbrenner, who passed away on Tuesday at the age of 80. He along with longtime stadium public address announcer Bob Sheppard, who died at the age of 99 on Sunday, will be honored prior to the game with a pre-game ceremony and video tributes.
The Yankees announced earlier in the week that they will wear patches on their uniforms for the remainder of the season to honor Steinbrenner and Sheppard.
Since the news of Steinbrenner's death, tributes have come from all walks of life with regards to one of the most influential characters in the history of the game.
"George was 'The Boss', make no mistake," said Yankee legend Yogi Berra, who was infamously fired as manager just 16 games into the 1985 season. "He built the Yankees into champions and that's something nobody can ever deny. He was a very generous, caring, passionate man. George and I had our differences, but who didn't? We became great friends over the last decade and I will miss him very much."
Since Steinbrenner took control of the storied franchise in 1973, the Yankees won seven World Series titles and 11 American League pennants, with the last coming last season.
The Yankees could very well be on their way to another title, as they entered the break holding the best record in baseball at 56-32 and a two-game lead on the Rays for the top spot in the American League East. New York won eight of nine to close out the first half.
A big part of that success is due to left-hander CC Sabathia, who will be shooting to extend his career-best nine-game winning streak this evening, while also trying to become the first 13-game winner in the American League.
Sabathia was terrific on Sunday against Seattle, which managed just a run and six hits off of him in seven innings. He has allowed just four earned runs over his last five starts and is 12-3 with a 3.09 earned run average on the season.
"It feels good," Sabathia said of his streak, which has seen him pitch to a 1.81 ERA. "I did have a tough May, I was struggling with my mechanics. I felt like I was getting behind everybody, so to be able to turn it around and finish the half strong feels good."
Sabathia carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the Rays back in April and is 8-3 lifetime against them with a 2.97 ERA in 16 starts.
Like the Yankees, Tampa went into the break with wins in eight of its final nine games after taking three of four from the Cleveland Indians last weekend. The Rays are 9-2 in the month of July.
Right-hander James Shields hopes to keep Tampa in the win column following his own inconsistent first half. His struggles could continue, though, as he is just 2-7 with a 5.54 ERA in 11 starts against the Yanks.
Shields lost for the third time in four starts Friday against the Indians, who reached him for four runs and six hits in 6 1/3 innings. That dropped him to 7-9 to go along with a 4.87 ERA on the year.
Tampa has won three of five from the Yankees this season.