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The Yankees ended their six-game road trip on a strong note against two AL East rivals Sunday afternoon. The day after CC Sabathia’s near no-hitter A.J. Burnett pitched seven strong innings and Jorge Posada and Alex Rodriguez drove in two runs apiece to lead the Yankees over the Tampa Bay Rays 7-3.

Burnett allowed two runs and six hits as he earned his first win of the season. Burnett gave up singles to Jason Bartlett and Carl Crawford to start the game then limited Tampa Bay to four hits over the next six innings.

Joba Chamberlain pitched the eighth, allowing a RBI triple to Crawford. Mariano Rivera worked a scoreless ninth in a non-save situation.

Posada’s two-run homer off Randy Choate gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead in the sixth. Rodriguez doubled off the wall in left field to drive in two to make it 6-2 in seventh, and Nick Swisher added a solo homer in the eighth off Andy Sonnanstine.

In a note that Chad Jennings wrote on LoHud, Swisher made a split-second decision to bring his warm-up bat to the plate. That 34-oz bat is three ounces heavier than his regular bat. He promptly hit a home run.

Burnett, who walked three and struck out one, worked out of a jam in the sixth after the Rays loaded the bases, helped by Evan Longoria’s infield pop single that struck one of the catwalks in the domed stadium before falling to the field. Burnett improved to 12-4 lifetime against the Rays, including 6-2 in 11 starts at Tropicana Field. He was 4-0 with a 1.97 ERA in five starts against Tampa Bay last season.

Bartlett singled leading off the first, stole second and scored on Crawford’s single. Carlos Pena later grounded into a force play to drive home Crawford.

Curtis Granderson’s RBI double began New York’s comeback against Rays starter James Shields in the second inning. Granderson got two hits today to raise his season average to .348. The day after getting three hits in his last three ABs, Mark Teixeira went 0-4 on his birthday. Although Tex is having a slow start, the Yankees are fueled by Rodriguez and their new #5 hitter, Robinson Cano, who’s leading the team with a .360 average.

The Yankees are off tomorrow (again) before starting their homestand with their own Opening Day at Yankee Stadium. They will host the Los Angeles Angels and will present their players with their World Series rings. Present will be former Yankee Hideki Matsui, who is now a member of the Angels. He’ll more likely be greeted by the Yankee faithful for his World Series game six masterpiece.

Andy Pettitte will pitch the home opener against Ervin Santana. Pregame ceremonies will start at 12:15 and the game will start at 1:05 p.m.

(Photo above from the AP)

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Today I witnessed the best pitching performance I have seen from the Yankees ace. Too bad it was cut short.

CC Sabathia kept a no-hit bid going for 7 2/3 innings Saturday, losing the closest call of his career on a sharp single by former batterymate Kelly Shoppach in the New York Yankees’ 10-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.

Shoppach’s hit on a 1-0 pitch off the big lefty fell cleanly in front of left fielder Brett Gardner.

Joe Girardi immediately came out of the dugout to remove Sabathia, who walked two and struck out five. The left-hander threw 69 of his 111 pitches for strikes and benefited from spectacular defensive plays by Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano.

David Robertson pitched the final 1 1/3 innings to complete a combined two-hitter. Ben Zobrist doubled off the reliever with two outs in the ninth.

Cano hit a two-run homer off Tampa starter Wade Davis in the fourth inning, and the Yankees scored two more in the fifth on Derek Jeter’s run-scoring single and Teixeira’s RBI double. After going 0-17 for the first time in his career, Tex got three straight hits in his final three AB in the game.

Every Yankee starter got a hit except Nick Johnson, although he reached base on a walk. Tex led all Yankees with three hits in four plate appearances, followed by Brett Gardner with 2 for 4 with two RBIs and two runs. Curtis Granderson went 2 for 3 with two walks and one RBI. In his first game this season, catcher Francisco Cervelli earned a two-run double in the 8th inning.

The Yankees loaded the base in the top of the 9th and Gardner generated a walk to bring home Ramiro Pena, who had pinch run for Alex Rodriguez.

The Yankees go for the rubber match on Sunday afternoon, sending AJ Burnett to the mound for a 1:40pm start against Jamie Shields and the Tampa Bay Rays.

(AP photo by Mike Carlson)

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The pitching of David Price and a pair of two-run homers led the Tampa Bay Rays over the Yankees on Friday night, 9-3.  Price allowed three runs and seven hits in a career-best 7 2/3 innings. Carlos Pena and Willy Aybar hit the two-run home runs.

Javier Vazquez got the start for the Yankees and for the first three innings was effective, but in the bottom of the fourth, Jason Bartlett started the offensive surge for the 3-1 Rays. Carl Crawford, Dioner Navarro and Ben Zobrist also drove in runs for the Rays.

Alex Rodriguez had a RBI triple in the top of the fourth for the Yankees, who were limited to four hits until Derek Jeter and Nick Johnson doubled to open the eighth, producing New York’s third run. Price gave up an infield single to Robinson Cano and walked Jorge Posada to load the bases. Lance Cormier replaced Price and struck out Nick Swisher to get out of the jam.

A-Rod’s triple scored home Nick Johnson, who got his first hit of the season before A-Rod’s at-bat, and Rodriguez scored when Dionner Navarro threw erratically, producing an “in-the-park-homer”. That was all the Yankees could do until the 8th inning.

Price was simply the better pitcher tonight. The Yankees have batted .123 against Price since his debut in 2007 and they simply need to find a better way to perform against him.

Saturday’s game is at 3:10pm and features CC Sabathia in his second start of the season against Wade Davis, making his first start of 2010. I’m feeling the Yankees will rebound and get this one.

(AP photo of David Price)

This week Trevor and I will be doing team by team previews for the AL East and will do divisional previews for the AL Central and AL West.

Tonight I’ll preview one of the teams that will content for the divisional crown — the Rays.

Offense: The Rays had one of the game’s best offenses in 2009. They hit .263-.343-.439 last year. The 803 total runs they scored isn’t as high as the Yankees but their lineup remains largely unchanged heading into the new season.

Tampa Bay is led largely by All-Star 3B Evan Longoria, along with Carlos Pena and Ben Zobrist, who emerged in a good way last year. Finally, entering into his final season before what’s sure to be a bidding war that includes the Yankees, CF Carl Crawford rounds up the potent lineup for the Rays.

Defense: Tampa’s defense is one of the best in the AL, if not the majors. They saved 69.5 runs defensively last season, with Longoria and Crawford rated as the two best defensive players at their position over the last two years. Who can’t forget Crawford’s catch in the All Star game last year in St. Louis?

Pitching: The Rays have the game’s best young rotation. Jamie Shields is 28, and he’s followed by Matt Garza (26), Jeff Niemann (27), David Price (24), and Wade Davis (24). Those five will combine to make about $9.5M in 2010.

The biggest move of Tampa’s offseason was landing a bonafide closer in Rafael Soriano. After burning through Troy Percival and Jason Isringhausen, manager Joe Maddon went with a closer by committee approach that saw J.P. Howell getting the majority of the saves and save opportunities last season. This season they will rank on top with the Yankees and Red Sox and their 9th inning is pretty much locked up now.

Outlook: The Rays have mastered the concept of player development and building from within, which is the only way they can compete with the Yankees and the Red Sox. With talk of a reduced payroll in 2011 and Pena, Crawford, Soriano, Burrell, and Balfour all set to become free agents after the season, this is probably the last hurrah for this Rays’ team as presently constructed. This current team is very, very good and could easily win 90 games and make a run at the division crowd.

Third place, 92-70.

Joba Chamberlain pitched eight scoreless innings and Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano homered and drove in two runs apiece to lead the New York Yankees to a 6-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.

The AL East leaders won for the 11th time in 13 games since the All-Star break.

Chamberlain limited the Rays to three singles. Joba struck out five and walked two, with both of the free passes coming in the fifth inning.

Teixeira and Melky Cabrera hit solo homers in the eighth. Teixeira and Jorge Posada also had RBI singles for the Yankees,.

Cano hit his 16th homer of the year in the sixth for a 3-0 lead.

Chamberlain is 4-0 over his last seven starts and improved to 5-0 in nine starts on the road this season. He retired eight in a row before allowing a single with two outs in the third and gave up an infield hit to Carl Crawford on a comebacker that he slowed down but couldn’t field in the sixth.

Chamberlain departed with a 6-0 lead, but the Yankees still had to call on Mariano Rivera finish the game in a non-save situation after Brian Bruney gave up a triple to Crawford and Evan Longoria’s 21st homer with no outs in the ninth.

Rivera, who entered with one out after Carlos Pena doubled off Bruney, struck out Pat Burrell. After walking Gabe Gross, the New York closer fanned Michel Hernandez to end the game.

The Yankees built a 2-0 lead on Teixeira’s run-scoring single in the first and a single, double and Cano’s RBI grounder in the fourth, however they wasted several opportunities by stranding runners at third in the second and third innings.

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