(Sports Network) - First place in the American League East will once again be on the line this evening, when the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays play the rubber match of what has been a thrilling three-game series at Tropicana Field.
After Tampa moved into first place with an exciting 1-0 win on Monday, the Yankees reclaimed the top spot with an equally-entertaining victory on Tuesday, as Jorge Posada's pinch-hit home run in the top of the 10th inning carried New York to an 8-7 win and a half-game edge on the Rays for the top spot.
Tampa and the Yankees have been within 2 1/2 games of each other in the standings for the past 50 days. They will face off again next week in a four- game set at Yankee Stadium.
"It's what baseball is about," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "It's what people look forward to in September when they talk about division races -- two teams fighting like crazy and going back and forth. It's what baseball loves. It's probably what makes you feel grayer, but it's what competition is about."
The Yankees, who blew an early six-run lead on Tuesday, also used a pair of terrific defensive plays to move ahead of the Rays in the division. Center fielder Curtis Granderson saved an extra-base hit with a great diving catch to end the bottom of the ninth, while right fielder Greg Golson threw Carl Crawford out at third base to finish the contest.
Posada, who had been held hitless since suffering a mild concussion during a September 7 game against Baltimore, sent a 2-0 pitch from Dan Wheeler (2-3) over the wall in center field. The homer, Posada's 18th of the season, hit off an overhang of a restaurant.
Crawford singled off Mariano Rivera leading off the bottom of the 10th and stole second just after Evan Longoria flied out to the warning track in center. Matt Joyce then sent a fly ball tight to the line in right, and Golson made the grab. Crawford attempted to tag to third, but was thrown out on a perfect throw to end the game.
"I heard a faint Granderson saying 'he's tagging, he's tagging'," Golson said. "I didn't think [Crawford] was going to be going. I just tried to get out a good throw."
Robinson Cano homered and finished with three RBI, while Alex Rodriguez also went deep and knocked in two runs for the Yankees, who snapped a season-high four-game skid. David Robertson (3-4) pitched one inning for the win, while Rivera nailed down his 30th save.
"Nobody died, that was a great game once again," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I was really proud the way we fought back [Tuesday]. I thought that was fantastic."
Heading to the hill for the Yankees tonight will be righty Phil Hughes, who hasn't started since September 5 in an effort to keep his innings down. He recorded the loss in that start, allowing six runs and seven hits in six innings against Toronto to fall to 16-7.
Hughes, who pitched a scoreless inning of relief over the weekend, is pitching to a 4.26 ERA on the year. He lost to the Rays the last time he faced them and is 2-2 with a 4.29 ERA in eight games (three starts) against Tampa Bay.
Tampa, meanwhile, will counter with righty James Shields, who is 13-12 with a 4.98 ERA. He did not get a decision Friday in Toronto, but did not pitch well, as he surrendered five runs (four earned) and seven hits in five innings of his team's 9-8 win. He has now allowed 10 earned runs in 9 1/3 innings over his last two starts.
"To me, he's been missing location by trying to overthrow a little bit," Maddon said. "I'd rather him stay within his delivery and make the pitch that he wants to pitch instead of trying to put a little bit extra into the pitch."
Shields beat the Yanks back on August 1 but has struggled against them in his career, having gone 3-7 with a 4.95 ERA in 13 starts.
Tampa has won seven of its 13 meetings with the Yankees this season.