ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Baseball's best record in hand, the Tampa Bay Rays are looking forward to their next challenge.
The AL East leaders begin a two-game series Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium, where they're likely to field plenty of questions about whether their franchise-best 28-11 start is for real.
New York entered play Tuesday with the second-best mark in the majors, and the defending World Series champions won two of three between the division rivals the opening week of the season at Tropicana Field.
“It's going to be fun going up there, as it should be,” manager Joe Maddon said Tuesday, when Evan Longoria drove in three runs and David Price became the AL's first six-game winner with a 6-2 victory over the Cleveland Indians.
“You want to be on the top. You want to play the best teams. You want to play in the best division. I think it's great,” Maddon added. “Our guys will be ready for it. Our game's a pretty good game right now. We haven't hit to our potential yet, but we've been doing everything else.”
Longoria, who has 21 RBIs in his past 19 games, had a run-scoring double off David Huff (1-6) in the third and a two-run triple off Hector Ambriz that was the biggest blow in a four-run sixth.
Price (6-1) won his fourth straight decision, lowering his ERA to 1.81 and improving to 9-1 over his last 12 starts dating to last season.
The 24-year-old left-hander, the first pick in the 2007 draft, held the Indians to an unearned run and four hits before turning over a 5-1 lead to the bullpen.
“If you probably would have asked me at the beginning of the season, I'd have took it,” said Price, who's 4-0 with a 1.03 ERA in his last five starts.
“I feel like there's still room for improvement. I feel like I've left some stuff out there that I shouldn't have,” he added. “That's part of it. Our team is playing good right now. Let's keep it going.”
Four relievers combined to limit the Indians to one run and two hits over the last three innings.
Cleveland shortstop Jason Donald went 2 for 3 with a walk and scored a run in his major league debut, filling in for the injured Asdrubal Cabrera. Shin-Soo Choo and Matt LaPorta had the other hits off Price, who walked three and struck out five.
“We found out what everybody else has found out, these guys have a very good pitching staff,” Indians manager Manny Acta said. “They're the team to beat, obviously, in that division. When you have that type of pitching, you'll win a lot of ballgames.”
The Indians put men on base in each of the first six innings. But they went 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position against Price, with Choo driving home Donald from third base by grounding out in the fifth.
Travis Hafner's RBI double off Grant Balfour trimmed Cleveland's deficit to 5-2 in the eighth.
The Rays struggled with runners in scoring position, too, going 1 for 7 in key situations before breaking through against Huff and Ambriz in the sixth. Pinch-hitter Reid Brignac snapped a 1-all tie with an RBI grounder, and Jason Bartlett added a run-scoring single before Longoria's triple put Tampa Bay up by four runs.
Now it's on to New York. The Rays' start is the best in the majors through 39 games since Boston was 28-11 in 2002.
Maddon smiled when ask about the questions his team may hear in New York.
“28-11's a pretty good start. They can ask all the questions they like. I don't think we have to answer any,” the manager said.
“I just want us to play the same kind of game we've been playing to this point. ... I don't like to say: ‘We're playing the Yankees, you've got to play a better game.' I'm really not into that stuff. Regardless of who we're playing, and regardlesss of the date, I want the same kind of effort and intensity. That's what we've been getting.”
NOTES: Price improved to 11-3 at Tropicana Field. He's 5-5 on the road. ... The Rays went 4-1 on their five-game homestand. Cleveland was 4-4 with series wins over Kansas City and Baltimore on an eight-game road trip. ... Indians CF Grady Sizemore was not in the lineup for the second straight day because of a bruised left knee. He's scheduled for an MRI exam on Wednesday. ... Cleveland manager Manny Acta said it's likely Cabrera will need surgery on his broken left forearm. Cabrera, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list, was injured Monday when he collided with 3B Jhonny Peralta while diving for a ground ball. ... Rays LHP J.P. Howell, who hasn't pitched this season because of a left shoulder strain, will be examined by Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala. The reliever shut down a simulated game due to discomfort in the shoulder on Monday.
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