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Cardinals highlight next year's schedule

How's this for a tough seven days?

The Devil Rays face the Cardinals, arguably the best team in the National League, on June 17-19 next season at Tropicana Field. They face the Yankees for four games in New York beginning the next day.

Tampa Bay released its 2005 schedule Friday, and the Cardinals' visit was one of the more notable spots during a season that will feature interleague play against the NL Central.

In fact, series against the Cardinals and Brewers, the only major league teams Tampa Bay has not played, will give the Rays at least one series against every team.

The season begins April 4 at the Trop against the Blue Jays, part of a nine-game homestand, and ends Oct. 2 at home against the Orioles.

A 13-game homestand occurs Aug. 15-28 as Tampa Bay faces the Yankees, Rangers, Indians and Angels. But the Rays have to take the bad with the good as they have 12-game road trips from May 30-June 12 against the A's Mariners, Reds and Pirates; and Aug. 2-14 against the Rangers, Angels, Orioles and Indians.

As it did this season, Tampa Bay will play its East foes 19 times each. The Yankees make their first visit May 3-5. The Red Sox come to town for the first time April 22-24. Those dates are the only ones in which Tampa Bay faces either New York or Boston on a weekend. In a brutal stretch from Aug. 29-Sept. 21, the Rays face either the Yankees or Red Sox in 14 of 23 games.