Martin Fennelly Columns
Rays, Yankees fit to be tied in record fashion
Remember it well, for it might never happen again. After all, it has never happened before, at least not this late in a baseball season, at least not for this long. The Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees were together again atop the AL East as Monday turned to Tuesday. The Siamese baseball teams live. Eight days and counting.When Rays manager Joe Maddon has an itch, Yankees manager Joe Girardi scratches it. Carl Crawford keeps getting Derek Jeter's mail. Carlos Pena is finishing Mark Teixeira's sentences. Joined at the hip, the neck, the feet, joined today at 81-50. It's been an extraordinary thing to see, even with all the Kelly Shoppach at-bats. Never before have two baseball teams been tied for first place this many days in a row, this late in a season. The old record, apparently, belonged to the Dodgers and Astros, who were locked up atop the NL West for seven straight days in July in 1980. They eventually needed a one-game playoff to settle things (the Astros won). But this thing, it's getting extraordinary. "It's been methodical," Maddon said during last weekend. "We go up a little bit, they go up a little bit. We win, they win. We lose, they lose." It's almost annoying. What's the point of playing scoreboard if you already know the answer? If you're a Rays fan, you keep looking for that little edge. Maybe it's Grant Balfour on his way back from the DL, back to the seventh inning. He pitched a scoreless inning in a rehab appearance in Bradenton on Monday night. Also present there was Brad Hawpe, the soon-to-be lefty DH. He had a hit in two walks as he tuned up. Maybe that's it. Meanwhile, the Yankees hit their usual three home runs in the Bronx and turned a 3-0 Oakland lead into an 11-5 romp. Meanwhile, the Rays matched them by beating the Blue Jays at the Trop, paced by starter Wade Davis, as well as Carlos Pena's three-run homer. Three-run homers are a beautiful thing, aren't they? I had a Ray tell me something the other day and it cracked me up, but at the same time, I understood it. "I'll guarantee you something," the Rays player said. "When we play the Yankees, and if we hold them under three home runs, we win the game. I mean any game this month, if we can do that, hold them under three homers, we win." The Ray shall remain nameless, lest the Yankees point at him as they hit their fourth homer on the night. But I knew what he meant. There are two ways to skin a division title. There's raw power (Yankees), the kind that light up the board like a softball team, and then there's pitching, defense, stealing -- the Rays way. There are 31 games left for both teams. Both have 16 home games and 15 road games left. The Rays have 15 games left against teams with winning records. The Yankees have 22. The Rays have 15 games left with the AL East. They're 30-19 in division play, the best mark of any AL East team. The Yankees have 22 games left against the East. They're 27-20 against the division. The last stretch might be telling. The Rays finish up with 10 games against teams with losing records: three at the Trop with Seattle, then three with Baltimore, then a four-game trip to Kansas City to wrap up the regular season. The Yankees? They have three with the Red Sox, three at the Jays and finish with three at Fenway Park. Then again, maybe the opponents don't matter at this point. Look to the NL East, where the Phillies were just swept in four games at home against the losing Astros. Remember the NL Central, where recently the Cardinals swept the Reds, then got beaten up by the Pirates. St. Louis is now six back of Cincinnati. Of course, we haven't even mentioned the seven games left between the Rays and the Yanks, three at the Trop (Sept. 13-15) and four large at Yankee Stadium (Sept. 20-23). They'll probably share a cab to the ballpark. Could it get any closer? The record book says no.