It’s not exactly pennant fever — we haven’t even reached Memorial Day, for crying out loud — but the Rays are embarking on an important three-game series that starts Friday night in the Bronx against the Yankees.
If you don’t count early April encounters, it’s the first time the Rays will play in Yankee Stadium while sitting atop the American League East since 2013.
As you might have guessed, the Bronx has not always been kind.
It’s not just that the Rays have lost more games at Yankee Stadium (both old and new combined) than any other ballpark, it’s that they’ve struggled in New York, even during good seasons.
Here are the six times Tampa Bay has played at Yankee Stadium while tied or leading the AL East after April.
Problem with Pettitte
Date: July 8, 2008
Arrived: Up 4 games on Red Sox
Departed: Up 2 games on Red Sox
The Rays seemed to be Andy Pettitte’s personal whipping boys. He went 17-8 against Tampa Bay in his career. Only Tim Wakefield and Mike Mussina have ever won more games against the Rays. In the series opener, Pettitte went eight shutout innings for a 5-0 New York victory. The Yankees swept the two-game series the following day despite a solo homer from Carlos Peña. New York’s Bobby Abreu doubled home Derek Jeter in the 10th for a 2-1 walkoff victory.
Shields, Longoria not enough
Date: Sept. 12, 2008
Arrived: Up 2½ games on Red Sox
Departed: Up 1 game on Red Sox
The Rays were coming in on a high, having beaten the Red Sox two out of three in Boston to increase their lead. Friday’s game was rained out so they played a Saturday doubleheader. The Rays took the opener 7-1 with Evan Longoria getting two RBIs in his first appearance after missing 30 games with a broken wrist and James Shields pitching eight shutout innings. It was the last high note of the weekend. New York won the second game 6-5 and Sunday’s series finale 8-4.
Zo-Rilla terrorizes ‘The City’
Date: May 19, 2010
Arrived: Up 3 games on Yankees
Departed: Up 5 games on Yankees
Playing rightfield and second base, Ben Zobrist went 4-for-6 with four RBIs and two walks in a two-game sweep of New York. The Yankees would eventually catch the Rays in June, and the two teams battled all summer. The Rays eventually won the division by one game.
Drive down the Price
Date: May 8, 2012
Arrived: Tied with Orioles
Departed: Tied with Orioles
The Rays held the Yankees to 11 runs in three games but still lost two out of three. New York won the opener and had a 1-0 lead with one out in the ninth of the second game before B.J. Upton tied it with a sacrifice fly and Matt Joyce followed with a three-run homer. David Price blew a 2-0 lead in the series finale as the Yankees won 5-3.
This guy again?
Date: June 5, 2012
Arrived: Up 1 game on Orioles
Departed: Tied with Orioles
The Yankees were in third place, 1½ games behind, when the series began. Between Pettitte and Ivan Nova, the Rays were scoreless through the first 17 innings of the series. Tampa Bay lost the first two games and briefly fell out of first. They won the finale 7-3 to briefly regain the division lead but, four days later, fell out of first place for good.
Rays roll with help from Archer
Date: July 26, 2013
Arrived: A half-game behind Red Sox
Departed: A half-game behind Red Sox
The Rays came to New York after winning 19 of 22 games to go from seven behind Boston to a half-game. They beat CC Sabathia in the opener to move into first, and Chris Archer pitched a two-hit shutout to win the second game 1-0. They dropped back to second after Jake McGee gave up a walkoff single to Alfonso Soriano to lose the series finale 6-5.