ST. PETERSBURG – Jose Lobaton got his post-home run ice cream. So did Matt Joyce. It was that kind of night for the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday at Tropicana Field — home runs, ice cream in the dugout and an easy victory against the Yankees. The Rays began a three-game series against the Yankees with a home run-powered 7-2 victory in front of 24,239 Alex Rodriguez-booing fans at the Trop. The Rays matched their season high with four home runs.
Chris Archer beat the Yankees for the third time this season. Pinstripes for Archer? And the Rays cooled the Yankees, handing the Bombers their first loss in six games. They also climbed back atop the American League East once Boston fell to the Los Angeles Dodgers, 2-0, later Friday night. The 73-53 Rays have played four fewer games than the Red Sox (75-55), so while the teams are tied in terms of games the Rays, at .579, are two percentage points ahead. The Rays will make up one of the four games with Monday's trip to Kansas City. “This is a big game for us,” Joyce said. “It's coming down to the wire. This stretch of games against teams in our division is huge. Everybody knows that. Everybody is excited to play these games and excited to see how things play out during the stretch.” The Rays, winners of seven of their past nine games, increased their lead over the A's in the wild-card standings to 2½ games. They did it with home runs from Lobaton, Evan Longoria, Joyce and Ben Zobrist. With a single from Lobaton that scored newcomer David DeJesus and gave Lobaton a career-high-tying fourth RBI. They did it with seven strong innings from Archer, who became the first rookie since Kevin Brown in 1989 to beat the Yankees three times in a season. Archer is 3-0 with a 1.23 ERA against the Yankees. They did it with good defense, including a couple of nifty grabs by Joyce in right field and one by DeJesus in the seventh that ended with him crashing into the left-field wall. “Archer was good, he was really good,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “He benefited from some pretty good defense. … All that stuff is really great, but the homers were kind of interesting because (Yankees starter Hiroki) Kuroda is really good.” Kuroda allowed four home runs for just the second time in his career. Maddon said he noticed a strong vibe among his team in the clubhouse before the game. That vibe remained after Archer allowed a first-inning run. “I think David coming here might have added a little to the boost in general,” Maddon said. DeJesus, who fell going around first base during his fourth-inning double — his first hit as a Ray — was acquired earlier in the day from the Nationals for a player to be named later. His presence in the clubhouse is proof that the front office believes in the Rays' chances of reaching the postseason; that they are willing to spend some money to upgrade the roster. “Absolutely,” Joyce said. “Every time you bring another guy into the clubhouse who has a great personality, a great player who plays hard, who wants to win, all the factors that he brings to the table, it gives your team a little bit of a lift.” The Rays' success the rest of the way rests with the starting pitching, and Archer gave a solid performance. Pitching in front of what he called his “pillars,” he held the Yankees to a pair of runs on four hits over seven innings. “There was no way I could fail, because I had my whole support group here,” Archer said. “I especially had that thought in the seventh inning whenever I knew my pitch count was getting up and I knew it was about time for me to come out. I just left it all out there, just like my family would want me to and my team would want me to.” Lobaton put the Rays ahead 3-1 in the second inning with a three-run homer that clanged off the right-field foul pole. As is now the tradition, Luke Scott brought him some ice cream from the clubhouse. Longoria and Joyce hit-back-to-back home runs in the third inning to make it a 5-1 game. Lobaton ran to the clubhouse to get Joyce some ice cream after Joyce circled the bases. “I was just following Lobo's steps,” Joyce said. “He actually offered me some right after he hit he home run. He was eating it, and I said I got to earn my own ice cream, and I guess I did.” Lobaton said it's part of the vibe of being a Ray during the playoff chase. “Make it a little bit funny,” he said, “so everybody can be chilling in the dugout.”