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09/19/10 7:26 PM ET

Rays, Yanks prepare for AL East throwdown

Sometime around 5:17 p.m. ET on Sunday, the Yankees' attitude in Baltimore was, "Let's do this."

A little earlier, the Rays' stance was, "OK, here we come," as they pulled up their colorful pants -- one leg at a time -- for the flight to New York.

And so the stage is set for the biggest September series in the brief history of the new Yankee Stadium, where the Rays and the Bombers will spend the next four nights deciding who gets the inside track to the 2010 American League East title.

Maybe. Last week's get-together in Tampa Bay -- won by the Rays, 2-games-to-1 and 12-runs-to-11 -- made it clear neither of these guys is going to give anything.

Except for push-for-shove.

"With how good their pitching staff is," said Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira, "and if our pitchers step up, there's not going to be any blowouts. It's just two good teams playing against each other. [These games] are going to be battles."

Wait ... what was that about the colorful pants?

As you may know, Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon promotes team togetherness by hand-picking themes for road trips. And Maddon, who after baseball clearly could have a second career as a travel agent, has designated this four-game hop to New York as the "Loudmouth Pants Rowland Trip."

Why? Well, Clarence Henry (Pants) Rowland was the manager of the 1917 White Sox, the only team ever no-hit twice on the way to a World Series championship. The Rays hope to be No. 2, having been held hitless by Dallas Braden on May 9 and by Edwin Jackson on June 25. And to (permanent) press that point, they will wear Loudmouth Golf-brand pants.

Whatever pants they will be wearing, plenty of loudmouth fans will be trying to energize the Yankees off their 3-6 road trip.

"I think the atmosphere will be great when we get home," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, and Teixeira quickly seconded that notion, saying, "It's going to be great. Fans haven't seen us in 10 days at home. It's going to be a lot of fun going back and playing a team we're going to be battling with the last two weeks of the season."

The atmosphere could also energize Tampa Bay starter Matt Garza, who comes off two flat starts and has the personality to be motivated by a hostile environment.

In those two starts, against the Red Sox and the Yankees, Garza was cuffed around for 12 runs and 18 hits in nine innings.

Maddon sees plenty left in the tank of Garza, who has toiled 573 1/3 innings since the start of the 2008 season.

"I think he's physically fine. His innings pitched and his number of pitches thrown is in good shape," Maddon said. "I want to see [him] stay in their delivery ... continue to make good pitches, knowing that something bad is going to happen at some point. That's OK. [He just has] to fight through that and maintain that level of professionalism that helps you get through that moment. That's what I want to see."

 Garza again draws Yankees rookie right-hander Ivan Nova, a rematch of the only slugfest of last week's series in Tampa Bay. The Yankees won, 8-7, in 10 innings, with neither Garza nor Nova seeing the fifth inning.  

"I've got an opportunity to do something I didn't do the other day," said Nova, alluding to the match and looking forward to the rematch. "Tomorrow's going to be a good day."

Rays: Zobrist starts better streak
Ben Zobrist ended an 0-for-23 drought with a double in the eighth inning of Sunday's loss to the Angels -- and promptly came up with another hit, a single, in the ninth.

Yankees: A-Rod nears Sammy
Alex Rodriguez and Teixeira both got days of rest Sunday before making 11th-inning pinch-hit appearances. A-Rod needs one home run to tie Sammy Sosa for sixth place on the all-time list with 609.

Worth noting
Losses by both teams on Sunday kept the Yankees a half-game ahead of the Rays. The teams have not been more than 2 1/2 games apart since July 26, when the Yanks were up by three -- their biggest lead of the season.

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