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53° Good Afternoon
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The all-day, all-night, running Rays-Yankees entry

Gotta leave shortly for the Stadium, and I'll be there for the entirety of the day-night doubleheader, so what the hell, let's mix it up today.

I'll check in every now and then here with updates and thoughts. Not like "Hell of a slider by Sabathia right there." More like discussing larger developments of the games, or anything else going on in the baseball universe.

First, to lay things out for today:

1) If the Yankees beat Tampa Bay in either game of the doubleheader, then they clinch a playoff berth.

2) If the Yankees sweep the doubleheader and Baltimore beats Boston tonight, then the Yankees clinch the AL East.

Got it? Good.

So quickly now...

--Here's my column about the nothing-to-lose Rays falling to the nothing-to-fear Yankees.

I stood in Joe Maddon's office last night as Rick Vaughn, Tampa Bay's outstanding vice president of communications, walked in and gave a thumbs-up. Maddon said, essentially, "Yes?" and Vaughn said, "Baltimore won." Maddon smiled.

The Rays didn't play a bad game last night. Their starting pitcher Wade Davis didn't have it at all, but he and his relief help managed to keep the game somewhat close and strand a crazy 18 Yankees baserunners.

And Ivan Nova was dealing. There's always that unknown factor with a rookie, but right now, Nova looks like he can handle a Game 2 starting assignment in the playoffs. 

And right now, Brian Cashman looks smart for refusing to include Nova in a trade package for Cliff Lee in July 2010. But we'll keep evaluating that one for years to come.

--OK, check here for updates throughout the day.

--UPDATE, 1:07 p.m.: We're about to kick things off here. Some pre-Game 1 notes:

--Hector Noesi is starting for the Yankees because Phil Hughes isn't physically ready, Joe Girardi said, due to the back spasms Hughes has suffered in the past week. Nevertheless, Girardi said, "In the long term, I'm not concerned about Hughesie. " By "long term," he meant "this year's playoffs," as opposed to, say, Hughes' ability to lift his grandchildren 50 years from now.

--Joe Maddon said he heard rumblings yesterday  - he wouldn't cite his source - that CC Sabathia would start Game 1 today, rather than Game 2 tonight. Only this morning, Maddon said, did he find out for sure that Sabathia was slated for Game 2. Regardless, Maddon said, he committed last night to starting James Shields in Game 1 and Jeremy Hellickson in Game 2.

Asked whether he thought the Yankees were guilty of gamesmanship in keeping their plans so close to the vest, Maddon said, "It had an odor of that, in a sense."

Maddon then went onto stress that he had no problem with such gamesmanship, and that he occasionally dabbled in it himself. "If you can use it," he said, "go for it." The Yankees and Red Sox are two teams, Maddon said, that "have an opportunity to use" gamesmanship more than most clubs.

--UPDATE, 5:45 p.m.: The Yankees are officially in the playoffs, after defeating the Rays in today's Game 1. They chose not to celebrate this milestone; as Derek Jeter explained afterward, if the team still has a chance to win the division, then it waits until that hurdle has been leapt before breaking out the champagne.

I'd amend that to "We wait for the division if it's certain we're going to win the division," as is the case this year. But no biggie. We get what Jeter meant.

The Rays have to be extremely frustrated. Big Game James Shields lived up to his nickname, throwing a gem of a game, yet the Tampa Bay lineup didn't provide a sufficient cushion against Yankees emergency starter Hector Noesi and a fleet full of relievers.

Meanwhile, Phil Hughes underwent an MRI test for his ailing back. As Brian Cashman put it, Hughes was getting better, but not doing so quickly enough.

More later.

--UPDATE, 7:01 p.m.: Cashman announced that the MRI on Hughes displayed inflammation, stemming from a herniated disc that Hughes suffered all the way back in 2004. If this were earlier in the season, then Hughes simply would have been prescribed rest.  But given where we are on the calendar, Hughes received an epidural and will shut it down for at least two or three days.

Cashman, more honest than most in his profession, acknowledged that sure, it was possible that this could sideline Hughes for part or all of the postseason. At the moment, however, Cashman said the team is hopeful that Hughes can pitch again during the regular season - if not over the weekend against Boston, then next week against the Rays at Tropicana Field.

 

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