The two hottest teams in the American League East will battle at Tropicana Field on Friday when the Rays and the Yankees begin a three-game series.
The Rays took two of three from the Orioles, and the Yankees have won five straight and appear to be super-charged following excitement in Boston on Sunday, when Alex Rodriguez was drilled by Ryan Dempster. Dempster was given a five-game suspension for his actions.
"That's behind us now, and I've shut everything down," Rodriguez said before Wednesday's 4-2 win over the Blue Jays. "I think the best thing to do, for all of us, is to focus on the game. We're in the middle of a pennant race, so I want to put the focus back on baseball."
A-Rod said that he will no longer be answering questions not related to baseball. He is hitting .281 with two homers in the 15 games since his return on Aug. 6.
One thing he's certainly done is lengthen the Yankees' lineup, which is tied for tops in the Majors in runs scored since he came back.
Rays manager Joe Maddon doesn't believe it's right to intentionally throw at A-Rod, regardless of the circumstances.
"Vigilante justice and unilateral decisions, I'm not into that stuff," Maddon said. "That is totally separate from the unwritten rules of baseball. I did not agree with that at all. Again, I don't believe in rogue, unilateral decisions or players handing out discipline."
Chris Archer, the 24-year-old rookie who is expected to start on Friday, has no negative words about Rodriguez.
"I haven't really thought about it," Archer said. "He's a good right-handed hitter that hits in the middle of the order, and that's what I really see when I'm watching film or thinking about this upcoming game.
"Regardless of the venue or team, I'm trying to go out there and accomplish the same goal every day: be mindful of every pitch. Keep my team in the game as long as I possibly can. And when I've been able to do that, the results have been positive."
Although Archer has really hit his stride since the beginning of July, lowering his ERA from 4.17 to 2.95, he'll have to deal of pair of hot bats in Alfonso Soriano (eight homers, 24 RBIs since Aug. 1) and Robinson Cano (.381 average, .460 OBP since Aug. 1).
Hiroki Kuroda takes the mound for the Yankees having yet to face the Rays this season, though the team has given him trouble in the past. His 6.11 ERA against Tampa Bay is his worst against any club
Since the All-Star break, a span of 41 2/3 innings, Kuroda has a 1.73 ERA with 32 strikeouts and five walks.
Yankees: Youkilis hoping for return this season
Kevin Youkilis is still hoping to return to baseball this season.
The veteran has been making progress since undergoing June back surgery, and isn't ready to give up on the season just yet.
"I've just got to keep hitting things, progressing, and every progression brings more excitement," Youkilis said. "Hopefully, in due time, I'll be able to do some baseball activities."
The 34-year-old underwent surgery to repair a herniated disk on June 20, which comes with an original timetable for his recovery of 10-12 weeks, putting him sometime in September. Before that can happen though, he still needs to be cleared for baseball activities.
"I'm hoping, for sure. If I had a magic ball that said I could be here on a certain day, I'd say it would be Sept. 1," Youkilis said. "For now, I really got to watch what I'm doing. I'm not really bright with a lot of the -- I ramp up things too quick sometimes. I need someone to pull the reins back."
Rays: Escobar does it all
Yunel Escobar batted fifth on Wednesday for the 10th time this season, a testament to how well he's performed at the plate. Although his season numbers may not be overwhelming, he has quietly been one of the better offensive shortstops in baseball after a rough April.
Since May 1, Escobar ranks second among qualified Major League shortstops with a .353 on-base percentage, and he's fourth with a .288 average.
In addition, he's ranked second in the popular defensive statistic UZR (ultimate zone rating), with 9.2 runs saved above average on the season. Only the Braves' Andrelton Simmons has a higher rating, an astounding 20.6.
• Since blowing three straight saves in early August, Mariano Rivera hasn't allowed a run in four straight appearances.
• Tampa Bay (44 errors through 124 games) and Baltimore (37 errors through 125 games) are each on pace to break the record for fewest errors in a season.