NEW YORK — The Rays have talked a lot about how badly they want to win the American League East.
After Thursday's 10-3 beatdown of the Yankees, they have the chance to do so.
Officially, the Rays are still a half-game behind, with a 91-61 record to the Yankees' 92-61. But because they are tied in the loss column, and because the Rays, by virtue of taking the season series 10-8, own the tiebreaker, they can control their own fate.
And they have a considerably easier path to do so, 10 games remaining against the Mariners, Orioles and Royals — three of the worst teams in the league — while the Yankees have three with the Blue Jays and six with the archrival Red Sox.
"I know how the schedule lines up and everything, and I know on paper it looks good," manager Joe Maddon said. "But from my perspective I don't take anybody for granted. I don't assume anything. I don't bet on the come. Keep playing the game we've been playing the last two nights.
"I've been an antiassumptionist the last several years, I don't want to start right now."
Well, the win reduced to four the Rays "magic number" to clinch a playoff spot by eliminating the Red Sox, meaning they could be celebrating as soon as Saturday at Tropicana Field.
What was expected to be a rematch of the David Price-CC Sabathia pitching duel turned into something of a slugfest, and a late-September game morphed into a March exhibition with wholesale substitutions as the Rays were down 2-0 in the second then 3-1 before rallying for seven runs in the sixth inning.
Carl Crawford had three hits, but it was another team effort, with eight players driving in runs.
The aces-high rematch between the Rays' Price and the Yankees' Sabathia turned out to be nothing like the dazzling duel of 10 days earlier at the Trop, when each worked eight scoreless innings.
Price, who was tied for third in the AL with 17 wins, allowed three runs on eight hits and four walks over six innings.
And he had the better night.
Sabathia, the large left-hander who leads the AL with 20 wins and is the favorite for another Cy Young Award, came up incredibly small, allowing a season-high seven runs on 10 hits and three walks while failing to get out of the sixth inning.
The Yankees took an early lead when Marcus Thames hit a two-run homer in the second, and added to it with three straight hits to open the fifth, Nick Swisher singling in Greg Golson.
The Rays got one run in the third, Jason Bartlett scoring on Ben Zobrist's single. It could have been more, but Zobrist got hung up between first and second and was tagged out before Crawford could score from third.
Down 3-1, they broke the game open with a seven-run sixth that started with a Crawford infield single on a ground ball that Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez failed to make a play on.
With two on and one out after Evan Longoria's 46th double, the Rays scored the tying run on an infield single by Rocco Baldelli and went ahead on a single by Willy Aybar.
A walk to Kelly Shoppach loaded the bases and another to Sean Rodriguez, after what appeared to be ball four two pitches earlier, scored a run and ended Sabathia's night.
But the Rays weren't done, as B.J. Upton greeted reliever Joba Chamberlain with a ground-rule double, the first hit by the Rays scoring more than one run since Saturday. They liked the concept so much that an out later Crawford delivered a two-run single, making it 8-3.
The Rays added to their lead in the seventh thanks mainly to a record-tying performance by Yankees reliever Javier Vazquez, who hit three consecutive Rays with pitches. Zobrist walked, then Vazquez hit Desmond Jennings, Aybar and Shoppach to force in one run, and allowed another on a sac fly to Dan Johnson.
The remaining regular-season schedules for the Rays, Yankees and Twins:
Date RAYS yanks tWINS
Tonight Sea. Bos. at Det.
Saturday Sea. Bos. at Det.
Sunday Sea. Bos. at Det.
Monday Bal. at Tor. at K.C.
Tuesday Bal. at Tor. at K.C.
Wed. Bal. at Tor. at K.C.
Thursday at K.C. Off Tor.
Oct. 1 at K.C. at Bos. Tor.
Oct. 2 at K.C. at Bos. Tor.
Oct. 3 at K.C. at Bos. Tor.