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09/23/10 11:53 PM ET

Seven-run sixth puts Rays half-game back

NEW YORK -- "Godfather II" it wasn't. Instead, the highly anticipated David Price-CC Sabathia sequel felt a little like "Smokey and the Bandit II."

But Rays fans would give Thursday night's contest in the Bronx two thumbs up.

September's second installment of Price vs. Sabathia did not live up to its advanced billing. Instead, a pitching matchup with warts materialized. And Price came out on top, thanks to his teammates, who pounded the Yankees for seven runs in the sixth en route to a 10-3 win with 47,646 watching at Yankee Stadium.

By winning, Tampa Bay (91-61) earned a split of the four-game series while moving to within a half-game of first-place New York(92-61) in the American League East standings. The Red Sox were idle Thursday, allowing the Rays to whittle down their magic number for a playoff berth to four games.

"It definitely does feel pretty good," said B.J. Upton when asked about coming back to split the series after losing the first two games. "We were in a situation where we could have walked out of here with a series loss. We battled back [Wednesday] and played a good game, and came back today and played even better.

"You know, to go down 2-0 in the series and then to come back and get a split against these guys at home -- that's playing pretty good baseball."

Added Price: "That's big. This is a tough place to play, that's a very tough team. And for us to come out and sit through that rain delay yesterday and win yesterday and today, that's big for us."

Price endured the first shot Thursday night, when Robinson Cano opened the Yankees' second with a single and Marcus Thames followed with his 12th home run of the season to stake New York to a 2-0 lead.

The Rays answered with a run in the top of the third, when Ben Zobrist singled home Jason Bartlett, but Zobrist then got caught in a rundown between first and second to end the inning.

Sabathia entered the sixth with just the one stain on his line, but Tampa Bay had runners aboard in three of the first five innings and the big left-hander seemed to be wearing Teflon. He wasn't so lucky in the sixth.

Carl Crawford singled to open the inning and Evan Longoria followed with a double to right field. One out later, Rocco Baldelli's infield single scored Crawford from third.

Then the floodgates opened.

Willy Aybar had an RBI single to tie the score at 3. Sabathia then walked Kelly Shoppach to load the bases and followed with a free pass to Sean Rodriguez to plate the go-ahead run.

Joba Chamberlain took over for Sabathia, and Upton greeted him by hitting a two-run double to deep center field. Crawford, batting for the second time in the inning, singled home two more for an 8-3 lead.

"He looked like CC to me," said Upton about Sabathia. "He pitched well. Just that one big inning was the only tough inning he had. But other than that, he looked like CC to me."

The Rays added two more in the seventh, when Yankees right-hander Javier Vazquez couldn't find the plate. He walked Zobrist, then hit, in succession, Desmond Jennings, Aybar and Shoppach to force in a run. Dan Johnson's sacrifice fly drove home Tampa Bay's 10th run.

Price picked up his 18th win of the season after allowing three runs on eight hits in six innings of work.

"It was all right -- I'll take it," Price said. "This is a tough place to pitch. That's a tough lineup. When they run CC out there, it makes it even tougher."

Looking at the schedule, the Rays appear to have an easier road the rest of the way than the Yankees.

Tampa Bay will wrap up this year's home slate with three games at Tropicana Field against Seattle over the weekend, followed by a three-game set against Baltimore. The Rays will then head to Kansas City to play the Royals in a four-game series to close out the season.

Meanwhile, the Yankees finish up by hosting a three-game weekend series against the Red Sox before heading to Toronto to play three against the Blue Jays. They will finish the season with a three-game series at Boston.

Should the Rays and Yankees finish in a tie, Tampa Bay owns the tiebreaker by virtue of its 10-8 season mark against the defending World Series champions.

"It'd have been nice to win this series and give us a little bit of an edge, but at the same time, we've got three big series left," Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "We've got a chance to finish it off and reach our goal. We just have to work a little bit harder now."

Maddon wouldn't take the bait when asked about his team having fewer bumps in the road.

"I know how the schedule lines up and everything," Maddon said. "And I know on paper it looks good. But from my perspective, I don't take anybody for granted. I don't assume anything.

" ... We just have to keep playing the kind of game we've played the past two nights. I've been an anti-assumptionist for the last several years, and I don't want to start right now. So you just go out and you play, and you want to make things work."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.