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Yankees play Rays with eye on Red Sox

NEW YORK -- The New York Yankees know they are at least hosting the American League wild-card game. They still would like to catch the Boston Red Sox for the AL East title.

New York gets another chance at inching closer to Boston on Wednesday night when it continues a three-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Yankees (88-69) opened the series Tuesday with a 6-1 win. As center fielder Aaron Hicks was making a leaping catch on Wilson Ramos in the first inning and Jordan Montgomery was pitching six effective innings, Boston ace Chris Sale was allowing four homers in a 9-4 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.

Tuesday's events put the Yankees three games back with five games remaining. It marked the second straight day New York gained ground after falling five behind Sunday.

"With five left, there's still a chance," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "We have to play to play really well, and that still is our focus. We have to play extremely well, and we'll see what happens."

Playing well is what the Yankees are doing this month. Since getting swept by the Cleveland Indians in a three-game series, they are 18-7.

"I know time's not on our side, but you never know," Yankees first baseman Chase Headley said. "Play it out. Try to put pressure on (the Red Sox) to perform. But it's nice to know worst-case scenario we'll play that (wild-card) game at home."

New York is 27-14 since Aug. 14, 40-24 since July 20. During the past 11 home games -- 10 of them New York wins -- the Yankees are averaging 7.5 runs and batting .320 with 25 homers while adding to the AL's best home record, 48-28.

On Wednesday, Tampa Bay (76-81) will be playing its first game since being officially eliminated from playoff contention. The Rays were a half-game out of the second wild card last month but are 6-11 in their past 17 games.

"Obviously frustrated, frustrated for the guys," Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said. "Believe it or not, the guys have battled through tough situations and tough ballgames and tough losses. Just like you can say about other clubs, but you come out of spring training with a goal of getting there, and when your season's cut short and you don't, there's obvious frustrations that come along with that."

The Rays are 6-11 against the Yankees and 1-7 at Yankee Stadium. In the series opener, Kevin Kiermaier and Steven Souza Jr. were a combined 5-for-7, but the rest of Tampa Bay's lineup was 1-for-25.

The Yankees will start Luis Severino (13-6, 3.03 ERA) on Wednesday with the idea of lining him up for the wild-card game. On Sept. 20, he faced the Minnesota Twins, New York's likely wild-card opponent, and he endured his second-shortest outing of the season.

The right-hander allowed three runs and five hits in three innings but recorded a no-decision as the Yankees won 11-3.

Severino threw 46 of his 71 pitches during the third inning, when he allowed all the runs. He threw 13 of those pitches to Joe Mauer, resulting in a two-run single.

"Everything was good until that at-bat against Mauer," Severino said. "I was getting tired."

Despite the short outing, he is 8-2 with a 2.34 ERA in 13 starts since the All-Star break.

Severino is 4-1 with a 3.06 ERA in nine career appearances (five starts) against the Rays. On April 13 in New York, he struck out 11 and allowed two runs in seven innings during a 3-2 win over Tampa Bay. On May 19 in St. Petersburg, Fla., he fanned seven and allowed one run in five innings during a no-decision.

Matt Andriese (5-4, 4.44 ERA) makes his 17th start of the season for the Rays and is looking to end a lengthy winless drought. He is 0-3 with an 8.45 ERA in his past seven starts since May 25.

Since returning from a hip injury, Andriese is 0-3 with a 7.20 ERA in four starts, though he is coming off his best outing since being activated, especially after a rocky first inning. In a 3-1 loss at Baltimore on Thursday, he allowed three runs and seven hits in six innings while tying a season best with eight strikeouts.

"I think today kind of showed what I have," Andriese said after that game. "It was tough missing so much time. Now I am just starting to get in the groove and get ready for next season. I am just looking forward to getting back out there every five days and being healthy."

Andriese is 2-2 with a 5.64 ERA in seven appearances (five starts) against the Yankees, who faced him twice before his DL stint. He allowed five runs in five innings in a home win on May 20 and gave up one earned run in six innings during a no-decision on April 13 in New York.

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