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Rays hoping to make history tonight

Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 12:39 AM

Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon called tonight's game against the New York Yankees the biggest game of the season.

Of course, Maddon has been saying that about every game the Rays have played for the past two weeks, but tonight truly is the biggest game of the season.

It is also the last game of the regular season, meaning the Rays' margin of error is virtually nil unless the Boston Red Sox lose tonight to the Orioles in Baltimore.

The Rays' incredible run to the top of the American League wild-card standings can culminate with their third trip to the playoffs if they beat the Yankees tonight and the Red Sox lose.

Game time at Tropicana Field is 7:10 p.m.

Since the Rays and Red Sox are tied for the wild-card lead, similar results – both win or both lose – will result in a one-game tiebreaker playoff at 4 p.m. Thursday at Tropicana Field to settle the final AL playoff spot.

A Rays loss and a Red Sox win sends Boston to the postseason.

"One big game left," Rays shortstop Reid Brignac said after Tuesday's 5-3 win against the Yankees. "We have to come out and play hard and, hopefully, win."

The Rays are attempting to become the first team in Major League Baseball history to reach the postseason after trailing by as many as nine games in September.

The Red Sox, who enjoyed that nine-game lead Sept. 2, are trying to avoid a historic collapse that will rekindle memories of Boston collapses of yore.

Tuesday's 8-7 victory against the Orioles was only the Red Sox's seventh in 26 games this month. A win tonight and the Red Sox will win consecutive games for the first time since they swept a doubleheader from Oakland on Aug. 27.

Pitcher Jon Lester, who has won one of five starts this month, starts tonight for the Red Sox.

"We just have to worry about ourselves, play our game, try to win our game and not worry about the other side of it," Maddon said. "That will eventually take care of itself."

The Yankees have not announced a starter for tonight, and the Rays expect them to pitch only relief pitchers, or as Maddon called it, "the kitchen sink."

David Price (12-13), 0-2 in five starts this month, starts tonight for the Rays.

"I always have the utmost confidence when David pitches," Maddon said. "Every time he pitches, we feel like we're going to win that night. I know some things have not necessarily gone his way this year, but in a very tight moment you always feel very comfortable saying, 'Here, David, go pitch.' That's just how I feel. I feel that way about a lot of our guys."

Price, who this season has seldom looked like he did in 2010, when he won 19 games and finished second in the AL Cy Young Award voting, said he is ready for the challenge of pitching the Rays to either the American League Division Series or Thursday's tiebreaker.

"I've been fortunate to throw in some pretty good games for the Rays so far," Price said. "I feel like I've handled myself all right out there. (Tonight) is not going to be any different. Obviously it's going to be the biggest game for the Rays in 2011 and one of the biggest games for the Rays in team history."

The ALDS will open Friday with the wild-card team – Boston or Tampa Bay – on the road at Detroit or Texas.