04/23/07 10:45 PM ET
Rays outslug A-Rod to top Yankees
Upton hits third home run, drives in four to carry offense
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
On Monday night, the Yankees went after the Devil Rays so hard in the eighth inning, the heat could be felt in the upper deck at a suddenly raucous Tropicana Field.
"They're never out of the game, and it's never comfortable," said Rays manager Joe Maddon of the Yankees.
Clinging to a 10-6 lead, the Rays watched the Yankees load the bases as Brian Stokes stood on the mound hoping to end the threat. A day earlier, the right-hander had tried to close out a game against the Indians, only to surrender a decisive three-run homer. Stokes' redemption came on Monday night when he struck out Melky Cabrera to end the inning before the Rays hung on for a 10-8 win in front of a crowd of 20,409.
"Funny how this game works," Stokes said. "I'm just glad they had the confidence to give me the ball. And I knew they did, and it was good to go out there and redeem myself a little bit."
Stokes' teammates were waiting on the top steps of the dugout to congratulate him after the inning.
"That was a great feeling," Stokes said. "Everybody was behind me 100 percent. The support they gave me, it really felt good deep down inside."
Maddon called Stokes' number after Juan Salas walked the first two batters he faced in the seventh. Stokes retired Jorge Posada on a popout, then gave up a single to Robinson Cano before getting pinch-hitter Johnny Damon on a popout to bring Cabrera to the plate.
"That was wonderful," said Maddon of Stokes' performance. "We were just trying to get deep into that inning with Salas somehow, and then maybe Stokes for an out. But after the first two walks, I could see that Juan was going to have a hard time with it. And no better time than the present to get yourself righted.
"Stokes came out there, he was nice and calm when I left him on the mound. I felt good about that. And obviously made some good pitches when he had to. Again, we're the TV show '24.' From last night until today, the way he feels is incredibly different. But I believe this young man is going to be a high-end relief pitcher. And he showed why tonight by having such a short memory."
Alex Rodriguez hit a two-run homer in the ninth inning to pull the Yankees to within two runs of tying the game. The homer, which was Rodriguez's 14th on the season and second of the game, came at the expense of Rays closer Al Reyes, who then struck out Jason Giambi and retired Hideki Matsui on a popout to second to end the game.
Throughout the game, the Rays fought off challenges from the Yankees while an ESPN audience watched nationally, as did an international audience via Japanese network NHK.
"I think people got a chance to see how athletic we are and how we do play the game hard," Maddon said. "I think we're kind of fun. With the combination of youth and skill level, I think people can see where we have a bright future here. It's really neat that we were able to perform that way nationally as well as overseas."
Early on, Rocco Baldelli answered Rodriguez's solo home run in the top of the second with a three-run blast in the bottom half of the inning to put the Rays up, 4-1.
The leadoff hitter for the Yankees reached base in eight of nine innings, but the Rays countered that display of offense nicely by inducing four double plays.
Akinori Iwamura won the battle with his countrymen, Yankees starter Kei Igawa -- who lasted just 4 1/3 innings and gave up seven runs -- and Hideki Matsui, who had a sacrifice fly and an RBI in two at-bats. Iwamura reached base each of his first four times to the plate with two walks, a single and an RBI double. He also scored three runs and made many nifty plays in the field, none bigger than the two foul pops he grabbed near the stands in the eighth inning.
Finally, there was B.J. Upton.
The Rays second baseman had a solo home run in the fourth that hit the left-field foul pole.
"I was talking to [the ball], saying, 'Stay fair, stay fair,'" Upton said.
He added a three-run double off Luis Vizcaino in the seventh to break open a one-run game and give the Rays a 10-6 lead.
"I was just looking for a good pitch to hit," Upton said. "I knew I had to be aggressive in that situation. One-run ballgame -- we needed to get those runs right there, and, luckily, I got a pitch to hit."
The 10 runs and 15 hits produced season highs for the Rays and much healing after the hard-luck weekend series against the Indians.
"We came here ready to go today," Baldelli said. "We needed to. We were hoping to win some more games in the last series, and we really needed a pick-me-up. It was a nice way to come out."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.