What looked early on to be a a back and fourth matchup turned into a one sided affair as Evan Longoria launched two home runs and lead the Tampa Bay Rays to a 8-3 victory over the New York Yankees, eliminating them from playoff contention and keeping the Rays in control of the first wildcard slot ahead of the surging Cleveland Indians.
Having scratched C.C. Sabathia earlier in the week, the Yankees opted for the struggling Phil Hughes on the mound and the Rays took advantage of the downgrade on the hill in quick fashion. In the first inning, Wil Myers doubled off the right field fence and was driven home by a James Loney double into the right field gap, giving the Rays an early 1-0 lead. The Yankees responded in the home half, with a pair of doubles of their own from Eduardo Nunez and Robinson Cano to tie the score.
It appeared that this sparring match would continue as the after the Rays tallied two more runs in the third and knocked Hughes from the game, the Yankees immediately answered with a run of their own with Nunez again doing the damage, this time with a solo shot to left off Rays starter David Price. However, Price settled down and found his groove.
Over the next four innings, Price did not allow another run and finished the evening with eight strike outs and no walks to just six hits, as well as the two earned runs. Price was in clear control of everyone in the Yankee order except Nunez. Price made Alex Rodriguez look silly with a couple of looking strikeouts with a pair of nasty cut fastballs ending both at bats. Alfonso Soriano and Brendan Ryan also struck out three times as Price worked through seven innings.
Price would get some much needed run support in the sixth inning after a slow turn by Cano allowed Wil Myers to avoid an inning ending double play. Loney followed Myers with a two-out single to center and Longoria then launched his first home run of the night to deep left field off Yankees reliever David Huff, a three run shot that gave Price and the Rays a comfortable 4 run lead. David DeJesus then ended Huffs night by launching his own home run to right field on the first pitch of the next at bat.
With the Rays now leading 7-2, Maddon turned to the dynamic duo of Brandon Gomes and Alex Torres to work the eighth and ninth innings. Gomes got himself into trouble, loading up the bases before getting yanked for Joel Peralta. Maddon most likely would have liked to have spared Peralta from working this evening but Gomes gave him little choice as he struggled on the mound. Peralta entered and walked pinch-hitter Lyle Overbay to cut the lead to four but then retired Curtis Granderson on a groundball to Loney.
The Rays would get the run back in the ninth inning on Longoria's second homer of the night, an opposite field shot to right, before Torres entered and worked a quick one-two-three ninth. Looks a little bit like a team peaking at just the right time.
The Rays have now won six straight games and in the process eliminated the Yankees from playoff contention. The Cleveland Indians defeated the Chicago White Sox tonight so the Rays maintain just a one game lead over the Tribe with four left to play.
There are a few issues of concern for the Rays, however. Yunel Escobar sat out after hurting his ankle Tuesday night and Desmond Jennings, who is working his way back from a hamstring issue, pinch hit in the game but was immediately removed for pinch runner Sam Fuld after singling.