NEW YORK — The temperatures are soaring, the (baby) Boss is bellowing and the headlines are screaming.
Nothing like a pennant race in New York in the summer.
Except for one thing: This race is upside down.
For the first time in their 11 seasons, the Rays came into the Bronx as the team on top, and the Yankees were the ones desperate to make up ground, trailing by 81/2 going into Tuesday's game.
"I'd have to say this is the biggest series of the year from the Yankees' perspective, and the feeling is that we've got to have a good series or we're going to be in trouble," said John Flaherty, who has the perspective of playing five seasons for the Rays and spending the past six with the Yankees as a catcher and broadcaster. "So, obviously, that's different."
So was the statement from Yankees boss Hank Steinbrenner, who went on to the Associated Press about how injuries have hurt the team but declared: "With what we've got in place right now, we should still be able to make a run."
Though the city was sweltering, there was a bit of a fall feel at the stadium given the buzz and size of the media contingent, which surpassed 40 at one point pregame.
"It has that October feel about it, which I kind of dig," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
Typically it's hard to know the Rays are even in town. But Tuesday's tabloids were packed with stories about the rising Rays, almost as much coverage as Alex Rodriguez's divorce got.
Well, without Madonna on the cover (MAN EATER, screamed the Post), details of Cynthia Rodriguez's reported wild spending spree (HER 100G REVENGE, blared the Daily News) and descriptions of A-Rod's alleged dalliances (including, according to the News, "in March 2007, Rodriguez was spotted chatting up a curvy blond inside the Whiskey Park bar in Tampa" and "whisked her away to a strip club for the rest of the night").
Rays veteran Carl Crawford said the situation with the Rays on top "is just weird to me, I don't really even know how to explain that feeling."
Other signs of how things have changed were the prominent Times Square location for the Rays' All-Star Statue of Liberty to what some fans were saying.
"They want to make it huge, they want to rag us, get on as much as they can," Cliff Floyd said. "We have to accept that for what it is. It used to be where we stunk and were at the bottom of the ocean. And now all of a sudden they want to rag us 'cause we're good."