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By NOEY KUPCHAN
(AP) -- While left-handers David Price and CC Sabathia rank among the better pitchers in the game, this enticing matchup has proved to be a one-sided affair.
With Price looking to improve to 4-0 against Sabathia, the Tampa Bay Rays seek a ninth win in 10 meetings with the New York Yankees as the teams conclude their three-game set Thursday night.
New York (16-14), which snapped a seven-game losing streak to Tampa Bay with Tuesday's 5-3 win, saw its struggles in this series resume with a 4-1 loss Wednesday. The Rays (20-11) were held scoreless before Matt Joyce's three-run homer off closer David Robertson capped a furious four-run rally in the ninth.
"It's always great to come up with a big hit like that, especially against the Yankees," said Joyce, who rolled his left ankle while snapping Tampa Bay's 0-for-20 drought with runners in scoring position.
Filling in for the injured Mariano Rivera, Robertson - who earned his first save after getting out of a bases-loaded jam Tuesday - hadn't allowed a run in his previous 26 regular-season appearances dating to September.
"It's the worst feeling in the world," Robertson said. "You watch when Mo does it, he comes back the next day and he's the same guy. He goes right back out there, takes the mound and does his thing. I'm going to have to do that (Thursday)."
Runs could be at a premium with Sabathia (4-0, 4.15 ERA) and Price (5-1, 2.35) squaring off.
The 26-year-old Price has outdueled Sabathia in five previous matchups, going 3-0 while compiling a 1.56 ERA, and the Rays have won all five of those games.
Price improved to 5-2 with a 3.96 ERA lifetime against the Yankees with 6 1-3 innings of two-run ball during an 8-6 win April 7.
On the verge of winning a career-best fifth consecutive start, Price was sensational his last time out, allowing one run, three hits and striking out a season-best 12 over eight innings of Friday's 7-2 win over Oakland.
"I feel like this was the best fastball command I've had all year," he told the team's official website. "Hopefully, it continues to get better."
"Right now, I feel good taking that ball every fifth day. I like where I'm at personally ... it's starting to roll pretty good right now."
Price went 19-6 in 2010 before taking what appeared to be a step back last season, when he posted a 12-13 record.
"I think his confidence is reemerging," manager Joe Maddon said. "We've always had confidence in him, but you have to have confidence in yourself. So the confidence is reemerging. ... You combine confidence with that kind of skill level - heads up."
Sabathia also enters this game riding a four-start winning streak after surrendering a pair of runs and scattering seven hits over eight innings in Friday's 6-2 victory at Kansas City.
"I (was) sitting over there during the course of the game, trying to figure out a better left-hander in the game today," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "I couldn't come up with one."
Sabathia, who's recorded a 2.46 ERA in going 8-1 over his last 11 starts at Yankee Stadium, is just 1-4 with a 3.72 ERA during his last nine games against the Rays. He was tagged for a season-worst five runs over six innings of a 7-6 season-opening, walk-off loss at Tampa Bay on April 6.
Carlos Pena can't be looking forward to facing Sabathia, against whom he's gone 5 for 38 (.132) with 21 strikeouts. The 2007 AL Cy Young Award winner won't have to worry about facing injured Evan Longoria, who is 13 for 33 with five homers against him.
Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson are each 7 for 34 against Price, with Granderson taking him deep twice.
Updated May 10, 2012