Hot bats, wild pitch give Rays the win
Tampa Bay makes the most of unfamiliar snowy conditions
NEW YORK -- Who would have thought that snow and cold weather would bring out the best in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays?
With temperatures dropping to the low 30s and a snowstorm in the late innings, the Devil Rays appeared energized by the adverse and quite unfamiliar environment.
Fighting through five lead changes and a tough outing by starter Jae Seo, the Devil Rays came back for a run in the eighth -- just as the snow started to come down the hardest -- and a 7-6 win over New York at Yankee Stadium on Thursday night.
"Coming in here after a couple of days off and after they had beaten us the first time out [a 9-5 loss on Opening Day on Monday], it's nice that we were able to come out and battle under the circumstances," manager Joe Maddon said. "Sitting in a hotel in New York for a couple of days is not easy -- there's a lot of distractions around here. Of course, to come out in the snow and play as well as we did ... I was very happy with that."
Third baseman Akinori Iwamura led off the eighth inning with a double off Yankees reliever Luis Vizcaino, and second baseman B.J. Upton followed with a single before Vizcaino uncorked the Yankees' third wild pitch of the game, scoring Iwamura as snow flurried over the field.
With many of the Devil Rays originating from points west and south, several players had never seen snow and rarely, if ever, played baseball in the cold. Yet most were almost euphoric as the little white flakes began to cascade down around the eighth inning.
"Once I got over the excitement of being in it ... I was so happy, it was my first time being in a snowstorm," gushed center fielder and Florida native Elijah Dukes, who led off the sixth with his second Major League home run to snap a 4-4 tie. "When the snow was coming, I forgot how cold it was. It was a great feeling, being in the snow. I always wanted to be in snow."
Californian Brian Stokes nearly let himself get too wrapped up in the snow. Having never been in it, let alone pitch in it, the right-handed reliever found himself in a precarious spot in the bottom of the eighth.
After walking the leadoff batter and giving up a one-out single to Robinson Cano, Stokes found himself facing Derek Jeter, Bobby Abreu and Alex Rodriguez. Jeter hit a ball back to Stokes' right, but in his haste, the pitcher threw to third late rather than go for the out at first, loading the bases for New York.
"There was so much stuff on my mind," said Stokes, who felt that pitching in the snow was "pretty cool. I was thinking there were no outs, and I was just trying to get the lead runner and keep the double play in order. There was so much going through my mind."
Stokes then got Abreu to hit into a fielder's choice -- causing a force at the plate -- and got Rodriguez to pop out to Upton to end the inning.
"This time I had to trust my stuff, because I didn't want to be the goat again," said Stokes, who was tagged for a run and the loss in Monday's season opener.
Said Maddon: "He was more comfortable tonight. I thought his velocity was better, and he just looked better."
Al Reyes pitched a scoreless ninth for his first save of the 2007 campaign. Seo went 6 1/3 innings, allowing five runs on 11 hits with a walk and two strikeouts.
Prior to the game-deciding wild pitch, the Yankees had tied the game in the seventh on a two-run single by Hideki Matsui against Devil Rays reliever Ruddy Lugo, who ended up getting the win.
Before Matsui's hit, the Devil Rays had rallied for a pair of runs each in the fifth and sixth innings against New York starter Andy Pettitte and reliever Scott Proctor to take a 6-4 lead.
In the fifth, Ty Wigginton's sacrifice fly and Ben Zobrist scoring from third on Proctor's wild pitch allowed Tampa Bay to tie the game at 4.
Then Dukes added his home run and Carl Crawford brought the score to 6-4 with an RBI single.
Just two innings earlier, the Yankees had taken a 4-2 lead with three runs and four hits in the fourth off Seo. Doug Mientkiewicz and Cano contributed RBI singles, and Jeter plated a run while hitting into a fielder's choice.
The Yankees took a 1-0 lead in the first when Cano led off with a single and scored on Rodriguez's double off the center-field wall, but Tampa Bay came back with a run each in the second and third innings off Pettitte.
Catcher Josh Paul, starting in place of regular Dioner Navarro, tied the game with a two-out RBI single in the second, and Delmon Young gave the Devil Rays a temporary 2-1 lead with an RBI single in the third.
Peter Zellen is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.