The regular season is scheduled to come to a close on Wednesday night, but the race for the Wild Cards in both the American League and the National League might extend things to a 163rd game. The Tampa Bay Rays will hope to nail down a spot in the postseason for the third time in franchise history in game No. 162 against the AL East champion New York Yankees on Wednesday.
The first pitch is slated for 7:10 p.m. (ET) from Tropicana Field, and television coverage is tentatively scheduled for the YES Network, Sun Sports and the MLB Network. The ESPN family of networks could pick up coverage of the game as well depending on how the rest of the schedule plays out on Tuesday.
The Yankees know they aren't going to be using anyone in their rotation that will be around for the playoffs in this game. Manager Joe Girardi hasn't announced a starting pitcher as of Tuesday morning. Odds are that many of the regulars in the lineup are going to get the day off as well.
New York has earned that right, knowing that it has already locked up the best record in the American League, and will be hosting either the Detroit Tigers or Texas Rangers on Friday in the Bronx for Game 1 of the ALDS.
Tampa Bay is in a significantly different spot, though. Coming into play on Tuesday night, the Rays were at 89-71, an identical record shared with the Boston Red Sox. We know that regardless of what happens on Tuesday, manager Joe Maddon and company will neither have wrapped up a playoff bid, nor will have been eliminated from the postseason, so this game could be for all of the marbles.
Boston is going against the Baltimore Orioles in the final two games of the season and, for the time being, is scheduled to throw Jon Lester against Alfredo Simon on Wednesday.
Barring a change in heart, Maddon is going to be going with David Price in the biggest game of the season. Yes, Price has a losing record at 12-13, but he has numbers this year that suggest he could have been a Cy Young Award contender.
The southpaw is no stranger to big games, having pitched as a rookie out of the bullpen in the run to the World Series in 2008, but this is as big of a start as he has ever made in his career.
Price is holding batters to a .228 batting average this year and has a fantastic 3.35 ERA. His walks are down from a year ago with just 60 free passes, and for the first time in his career, Price has reached the 200+ strikeout barrier with 215 K's.
The issue of fatigue is there for Price, though. He has already thrown 220 1/3-innings in 2011, and this is going to be the first time that he is asked to make a 34th start in a regular season in his career. He hasn't pitched more than 6 2/3-innings in four straight starts as well, another issue that has to be a concern.
New York owns a 9-7 lead in the season series with Tuesday's action still pending, though the Rays did take the first game of this series on Monday night 5-2 thanks to a great pitching effort by James Shields.
Tampa Bay has gone 4-3 in the seven meetings thus far at Tropicana Field.
Veteran umpire Joe West is scheduled to have the plate for this one, and he brings a very strong 21-11-3 season trend to the 'over' into the game. However, the 'under' has cashed in two of three plate assignments at The Trop, with the third a 'push.' Two of those three contests were starts by Rays southpaw Price.
Should the Red Sox and Rays have a matching record, a one-game playoff will be held on Thursday for the right to take on either the Rangers or the Tigers in the ALDS on Friday. Tampa Bay will host the game by virtue of its 12-6 record against Boston in the regular season.