ST. PETERSBURG -- A major meltdown under Teflon skies enabled the Rays to take a much-needed, come-from-behind 3-2 win over the Yankees on Tuesday night at Tropicana Field with 22,780 in attendance.
By winning, Tampa Bay snapped a three-game losing streak and gained ground in the American League East race. First-place Boston lost to Baltimore, allowing the Rays to move within seven games of the lead. The win also pulled Tampa Bay within 5 1/2 games of AL Wild Card-leading New York.
The win gave the Rays a 2-3 mark on their current seven-game homestand against the Yankees and the Red Sox. They are now 3-5 -- with a rainout -- during their 11-game stretch against New York and Boston, which dates back to the final series before the All-Star break.
Tropicana Field has often been the brunt of jokes and derogatory comments by opposing teams, fans and the media. Even Rays manager Joe Maddon got into the act when he dissected the place prior to Tuesday's game. But the ballpark helped deliver victory to the Rays and the Yankees did the rest, leaving Maddon to talk glowingly about his home field.
"I've made good with The Trop -- I did last year, and we're buddies again," Maddon said. "It worked in our favor tonight."
Trailing, 2-1, in the seventh, the Rays had runners on first and second with one out when Justin Ruggiano pinch-hit for Sam Fuld and sent a high drive to Curtis Granderson in center field. Granderson appeared to camp under the ball, then lost it in the light background of Tropicana Field's Teflon ceiling, and the ball fell safely in front of him to load the bases.
"I had no clue where it was at, and then when I finally went to make an attempt at it, it was a little bit too late," Granderson said.
Elliot Johnson followed in a pinch-hitting role for Reid Brignac and hit a ball back to Boone Logan, but the Yankees left-hander botched the play, allowing the tying run to score and all runners to be safe.
Lately, the Rays haven't capitalized on opportunities afforded them by the opposing team. That wasn't the case on Tuesday night.
Johnny Damon hit after Johnson and delivered a shallow fly ball to center field. Granderson charged hard to make a sliding catch, but Sean Rodriguez alertly tagged on the play. Granderson got to his feet and fired a wild throw to the plate as Rodriguez scored the go-ahead run.
"As soon as he hit it, I guess just reacting, you see the ball and you know he's either going to dive and catch it or dive and miss it," Rodriguez said. "It wasn't one of those balls that I thought he was going to catch standing up.
"But even if he did, I'd have to be back at the bag. I didn't think it was going to fall that easy, where it was just going to hop in front of him -- because I saw [Robinson] Cano and [Derek] Jeter go out, and I thought they might have had a play on it at one point. And if they would have caught it, I still would have thought about tagging."
Jeremy Hellickson started for the Rays and allowed only a third-inning homer to Cano with a runner aboard to pick up his ninth win of the season. More importantly, the rookie right-hander pitched seven innings on a night when the Rays needed their starter to go deep, given the exhausted status of the bullpen.
Hellickson "was good," Cano said. "He was throwing a lot of strikes and he went deep in the game; that's all that matters. You always want your starters to go seven or eight innings so you don't have to use your bullpen, especially since the last three games, they've been using their whole bullpen. He was really good today."
Jake McGee and Joel Peralta covered the final two innings, with Peralta picking up his first save of the season.
After losing to the Red Sox, 1-0, in 16 innings on Sunday night then losing, 5-4, to the Yankees on Monday night, the Rays seemed overdue to be on the receiving end of a break.
"The last couple of games, we could have easily won," Rodriguez said. "The 16-inning game, the one-run game last night -- it's finally good to jab back. Hopefully, we can keep jabbing a little bit and then hit them with an uppercut. We'll see. One day at a time. Keep jabbing."
While the Rays have been through a tough stretch recently, Maddon saluted the way his team has continued to grind.
"Really there have been so many things out of our reach and in the reach of the other teams," Maddon said. "That's the way this game goes. And I'll tell you, [the breaks] only come back to you if you keep playing. If you don't keep playing, it just continues to work away from you and you really fall into that abyss.
"That's why I keep praising our guys. The work's there. The effort's there. The want-to is there. And when it's not working, teams that aren't so good are going to give in to that moment. We don't give in to that moment, and that's what I love about our group."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.