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09/12/10 3:37 PM ET

Price, CC kick off key AL East series

Football season may have kicked off, but the premier Monday night showdown is still on the diamond in Tampa Bay, where CC Sabathia and David Price will put their Cy Young credentials on full display in the first game of a crucial three-game series.

"This is what it's about at this time," Price said. "Big series, big game."

The Yankees enter the series with a slim half-game lead over Tampa Bay in the American League East, with Monday's contest the first of seven matching these two heavyweights over the final three weeks of the season.

It doesn't get much better than Sabathia and Price, who are No. 1 and 2 in the AL in wins. Sabathia gets his second shot at winning 20 games for the first time in his career, while Price has an outside chance at 20. He sits at 17 wins with three to four starts remaining in his first full Major League season.

Sabathia, though, is coming off one of his worst starts of the season against the Orioles, surrendering six runs (five earned) on nine hits in 6 1/3 innings. It was the first time Sabathia had given up six runs in a game since May and his first regular-season home loss since last July.

The Yankees, meanwhile, are coming off a sweep at the hands of the Rangers -- the first time they've been swept in a three-game series this season.

"I'm trying to treat it like anything else," Sabathia said. "Every game for us right now is big. That's what makes the division so tough, getting the chance to play the team that's there. It's always going to be big."

Price, on the other hand, has won two consecutive starts for the first time since the end of July. The left-hander was terrific in his last start in Boston, limiting the Red Sox to a run on two hits in six innings.

Both he and Sabathia know, however, that while their names may be on the marquee, they're not exactly facing one another.

"I have to worry about the hitters and not CC," Price said.

"You've got to embrace it, but I'm not facing him," said Sabathia. "I'm facing their lineup. I'll go out and just try to put up zeroes. I know he's doing the best he can, and we'll have to see what happens."

Yankees: Vazquez's stay in 'pen may be prolonged
Javier Vazquez was in the bullpen for the Yankees' Sunday contest with the Rangers, ostensibly to help take some of the load off a unit overtaxed by two marathon games in Arlington.

But given the right-hander's inconsistent performance as a starter this season, the imminent return of Andy Pettitte and the off-day for the Yankees on Thursday, Vazquez may find himself in the bullpen a bit longer.

"There's just things we'll have to decide and see how the next few games go," said manager Joe Girardi, who has not settled on a rotation beyond these three games in Tampa Bay.

"The way I look at it, if I was pitching great, that wouldn't be an issue," Vazquez said. "Obviously, I'm to blame for not throwing the ball well. I know I can help them in the 'pen, too, so whatever they want to do, I'll do."

Rays: Division title is 'ultimate goal'
Although Tampa Bay has a relatively comfortable lead in the Wild Card standings, the Rays would much rather earn their way into the postseason with their second division title in three seasons.

"My internal combustion system on a daily basis feels a very strong urge to win all of these games," manager Joe Maddon said. "I truly believe, truly believe winning your division is the ultimate goal. You want to win your division first, then reap the benefits of that afterwards. We've played better on the road, but I would much prefer if we get into the playoffs to start at home and have some kind of home-field advantage."

The Rays know how important having the home field can be, since they used it to their advantage two years ago in their seven-game ALCS victory over the Red Sox -- who had won the Wild Card that season.

"Obviously we want to make the postseason, but we want to win our division," Price said. "It's something we've talked about since first day of Spring Training and we have a chance at that. This series is definitely big for us."

Worth noting
In the final weeks of the season, the Yankees will try to become the first repeat champion in the AL East since they won nine straight division titles from 1998 to 2006. ... The Rays have won six of the 11 meetings between the two teams this season, with the squads splitting the six games at Tropicana Field. ... Since their eight-game winning streak, the Yankees are just 1-6. ... Price is on pace to establish a new Rays franchise record for a starting pitcher with his 2.87 ERA. The previous low is Scott Kazmir's 3.24 in 2006. Price has already smashed the franchise record for wins in a season, which was 14 (Rolando Arrojo in 1998, James Shields and Edwin Jackson in 2008).

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.