ST. PETERSBURG -- There was a half-game separating the Yankees and Rays for the American League East lead when both teams got to their respective clubhouses at Tropicana Field on Monday, but that difference was too small for Derek Jeter to recognize.
Even though the official standings said the Yankees have the slightest of leads while being even in the loss column, Jeter said he can't quite figure the half-game factor. What he does recognize is that this series is one of importance.
"They're all big now. We have 19 games left and we're pretty much tied," Jeter said. "This is the position you want to be in. You don't have to worry about what another team is doing, you don't have to look at any scoreboards. We control what happens."
The Yankees have seven games remaining against the Rays, including a four-game showdown in New York on Sept. 20-23, so the AL East race could very well be decided by those contests.
"Neither one of us are in yet, so there's still a lot of work to be done," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "The division is important because everyone wants their home fans behind them as long as you can. We had it last year and it worked out very well for us. It's important to us."
Girardi said the Yankees are not looking at the AL Wild Card as a potential fall-back cushion. If the season had ended Sunday, the Yankees would have played the Rangers in the first round, with the Wild Card-winning Rays meeting the Twins. But that's all far from guaranteed.
"You understand what it is -- we have a lot of tough games left," Girardi said. "It's seven with these guys and six with Boston, and Baltimore is playing better and Toronto has been tough on us. We have two teams basically chasing us in that [Wild Card] race, Chicago and Boston. The cushion is never enough."