First Pitch: A whole new ballgame

September, 6, 2012
9/06/12
7:00
AM ET
What a difference one win makes.

Had the Yankees lost last night, and headed into Baltimore for their four-game series against the Orioles a game back in the AL East, it would have been virtually imperative that they win three of four just to keep things close.

Now, having beaten the Tampa Bay Rays, with the help of Rays 2B Elliot Johnson and an assist from manager Joe Maddon, the whole complexion of the series changes.

Now, if they take three out of four, they come home in pretty good shape for a run of 22 games, 16 of which are against teams with sub-.500 records playing out the string.

Suddenly, the prospect of winning the AL East doesn't seem nearly as bleak as it did a couple of days ago. In fact, if you compare the remaining schedules of the Yankees, Orioles and Rays, it is clear the Yankees have the easiest road home. Fifteen of the Rays' remaining 25 games are against the Yankees, Orioles, the Texas Rangers and the White Sox. The Orioles still have to make a West Coast trip. The Yankees get six against the Red Sox, seven against the Blue Jays and three against the Minnesota Twins.

So I'm starting to think they're going to win the AL East after all, as I predicted before the season, in which case this long stretch of mediocre play -- 44 games between the 10-game lead on July 18 and Tuesday night's fall into a first-place tie -- will wind up being a footnote to this season.

Which brings us to the Question of the Day: Being as objective as you can be, who do you think will ultimately wind up as the AL East champion? Let us know below.

Up now: My column on last night's 6-4 win over the Rays, which stopped the bleeding for one night at least, and maybe for the rest of the season.

Coming soon: A W2W4 by Mark Simon on the matchups in opener of this crucial four-game series, followed by the Camden Yards clubhouse opening at 3:35 p.m. Andrew Marchand will be there to bring you the lineups and all the pregame news, followed by the game at 7:05 p.m. David Phelps (3-4, 3.13) gets the assignment against RHP Jason Hammel (8-6, 3.54). Check in often for all the news and as always, thanks for reading.
Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Masahiro Tanaka
WINS ERA SO IP
13 2.77 141 136
OTHER LEADERS
BAJ. Ellsbury .271
HRB. McCann 23
RBIB. McCann 75
RB. Gardner 87
OPSB. Gardner .749
ERAH. Kuroda 3.71
SOH. Kuroda 146