Rays bat around Yankees to close gap to 1 1/2 games
NEW YORK — Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria hit consecutive homers last night, and the Tampa Bay Rays feasted on a fallible New York bullpen after a long rain delay took some of the luster out of a key game for a 7-2 victory over the Yankees.
Dan Johnson hit his third homer against New York in a week, and the Rays’ bullpen outpitched the pinstriped relievers to help Tampa Bay pull within 1 1/2 games of New York in the AL East in a game that ended at 12:34 a.m. Tampa Bay improved to 9-8 in the season series — the first tiebreaker should the teams be equal after 162 games — with one game to go.
The finale of the four-game set tonight is highlighted by the anticipated rematch of Cy Young Award candidates CC Sabathia and David Price after they went zero for zero for eight innings Sept. 13 in Florida.
Wade Davis had his promising start cut short in the third inning by a stoppage of 2 hours and 11 minutes. He pitched 2 1/3 innings without giving up a hit. Yankees righthander A.J. Burnett allowed a sacrifice fly to Longoria in the first.
About half the crowd of 46,986 remained after the thunder and lightning abated on a steamy night that felt more like mid-August than the first day of fall.
Despite seeing Royce Ring in his Yankees debut and rookie Jeremy Hellickson on the mound when play resumed, the stakes were just as high for the top two teams in the division.
Hellickson (4-0) kept the Yankees hitless until Lance Berkman lined his first homer for New York with one out in the fifth to cut the Rays’ lead to 2-1. He hit 13 for Houston.
Johnson connected leading off the sixth to restore the two-run lead, and the Rays looked as if they were headed for a big inning against Dustin Moseley, who gave up hits to five of the eight batters he faced. But Gold Glover Mark Teixeira made two fine plays at first base to keep it to a run.
First, he raced in to cut off a grounder by Reid Brignac and threw home to nail Matt Joyce trying to score. Then he started a 3-6-3 double play on Dioner Navarro’s grounder to end the inning.
Hellickson gave up two runs in 3 1/3 innings for the win. Randy Choate got an out in the sixth, Grant Balfour pitched a scoreless seventh, and Joaquin Benoit worked the eighth. Chad Qualls finished.
Alex Rodriguez made it 3-2 with an RBI single in the bottom of the sixth, driving in Derek Jeter, who passed Mickey Mantle for third on the Yankees career runs list with 1,678.
Crawford and Longoria homered in a span of three pitches from Chad Gaudin with two outs in the seventh, and Jonathan Albaladejo walked Ben Zobrist with the bases loaded in the eighth for a 6-2 lead. When Albaladejo threw his next strike, the testy Bronx crowd gave a sarcastic cheer, one of several in the late innings.
Burnett (10-14) made a behind-the-back grab of Longoria’s grounder and threw to first to end the third with a runner on second base.