07/09/08 6:57 PM ET
Slumping Rays fall to Yanks in 10
Balfour allows winning run to score; Jackson has quality start
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
Immediately after Bobby Abreu hit an RBI double in the bottom of the 10th to give the Yankees a 2-1 walk-off win, Abreu was standing on the field for an interview when Melky Cabrera and Robinson Cano ambushed their teammate with the Gatorade jug.
That's right. The Yankees (49-42) were celebrating a victory over the Rays. A sight that once would have been unimaginable has become a reality since Tampa Bay (55-35) ascended to first place in the American League East.
A crowd of 53,552 at Yankee Stadium cheered on the home team in the hopes they could win the second game of the two-game series against the upstart Rays and continue their fight to get back into the race. And they did just that.
Derek Jeter drew a walk from Grant Balfour with one out in the 10th before Abreu doubled to right-center field to send Tampa Bay to its third consecutive loss, which allowed third-place New York to move to within 6 1/2 games of the lead. Second-place Boston moved to just two games out.
A heaping help of rationalization reverberated inside the Rays' clubhouse as a means of dealing with the fact Tampa Bay is suddenly in the midst of a mild losing streak.
"This is not adversity, this is just a couple of games where we haven't put much together offensively," said Cliff Floyd, a veteran leader in the Rays' clubhouse. "When you're playing good teams, you have to score runs. The pitching has been giving us opportunities, and we haven't capitalized on those opportunities at the plate.
"When you lose two or three, what's to know what's going on. It's a couple of games. The one thing you want to be careful of, as a young team going into the break, is looking at the break before the break is here. So we've got to go to Cleveland and step it up. That's it. So, the break is in four days, let's make it four days instead of tomorrow."
Edwin Jackson made his 18th start of the season for the Rays and pitched well. The 24-year-old right-hander held the Yankees to one run on six hits and two walks while striking out three before J.P. Howell took over with one out in the seventh and the potential go-ahead run on second base. The dependable left-hander then struck out Brett Gardner and Jeter to end the inning.
Tampa Bay escaped another jam in the bottom of the ninth, when Jorge Posada drew a leadoff walk from Howell to start the inning. Robinson Cano sacrificed pinch-runner Justin Christian to second, prompting the Rays to bring in Balfour. Christian stole third base on Balfour's third pitch before Balfour (2-1) struck out Melky Cabrera. Jose Molina then popped out to second base to end the threat.
Carlos Pena led off the sixth and hit a 1-2 pitch from Sidney Ponson into the right-field stands for his 14th home run of the season. The blast tied the game at 1 and ended a 15-inning scoreless streak by Tampa Bay. Unfortunately for the Rays, that's all the offense they could generate Wednesday afternoon. They were 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and have gone 2-for-28 with runners in scoring position over the course of their three-game losing streak, which doesn't necessarily mean the team is in a hitting slump.
Ponson gave the Yankees six strong innings Wednesday after Andy Pettitte pitched a superb eight innings Tuesday.
"You've got to give Pettitte credit," Floyd said. "That's the best I've seen him pitch in years. ... I didn't even play and I thought he was pretty good on the mound. You've got to tip your hat to him. And Ponson gave them a good start, so sometimes against a good pitcher, you have to tip your hat to him and keep moving."
So everybody wants to know if the Rays can recover from the two losses to the Yankees and the three-game losing streak. Manager Joe Maddon sounded confident the team would, citing the fact it has suffered two seemingly devastating sweeps at Boston already this season.
Jackson echoed the manager by noting, "We've had our tough losses before, and it's something you have to have a short-term memory about. Tomorrow, you just start all over."
B.J. Upton conceded the three losses were tough to take, but ...
"We can't hang our heads, it's a long season," Upton said. "You're going to run into these kinds of streaks."
And while the past two losses did come against the Yankees, Maddon continued to harp on the fact every loss is the same.
"I don't like the idea on placing extra emphasis on certain games," Maddon said. "I think that's wrong. In football, maybe, but in baseball, you can't do that. ... It's not time to start switching things around. We've been playing great. We're just coming off a seven-game winning streak. We lost three pretty tough games, and that's going to happen."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.