NEW YORK – Another crucial late-September game, another crucial late-September win for the Tampa Bay Rays, who are negotiating this final week of the season without much margin for error.
“We needed to,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “There really is no choice.”
On Wednesday, it was a pair from the old guard – Evan Longoria and David Price with an assist from newbie David DeJesus – who led the way at Yankee Stadium.
Longoria hit a pair of home runs and Price won for the first time since Aug. 24 as the Rays inched closer to a Wild Card spot with an 8-3 victory against the New York Yankees.
The Rays, winners of six straight for the fourth time this season, held on to their lead atop the AL Wild Card standings with the win and lead the Cleveland Indians by one game and the Texas Rangers by two with four games to play.
The Rays reduced their magic number to clinch a playoff berth to three and to win the Wild Card to four. The Yankees were eliminated from contention during the game with the Rays when the Indians won.
“I feel like we feel pretty confident as a group, but at the same time we can't let that kind of skew our view of how we need to play these next four games,” Longoria said. “Every one of them is going to be as important as the next.”
The Rays finish this three-game series in the Bronx tonight then begin a three-game series against the Blue Jays on Friday in Toronto. The Indians open a four-game series tonight in Minnesota while the Rangers begin a four-game series tonight against the visiting Los Angeles Angels.
“We got to keep it going,” Maddon said. “That's one night. That was Wednesday. We'll get ready for (tonight) and try to go 1-0 (tonight).
Price allowed two runs in seven innings to snap a five-game winless streak that included three straight losses.
He allowed a run in the first inning on doubles by Eduardo Nuñez and a solo home run by Nuñez in the third inning that trimmed the Rays lead to 3-2.
But Price, who allowed 34 base runners over his last 26 1/3 innings prior to Wednesday's start and retired the side in order in only one of his previous 17 innings, retired the final 10 batters he faced.
“He kept getting better, I thought,” Maddon said.
The Rays gave Price a 1-0 lead in the first inning on back-to-back doubles by Wil Myers and James Loney.
The Rays made it a 3-1 game in the third inning when DeJesus singled home one run and Matt Joyce drove in another with a sacrifice fly.
The Yankees threatened in the fourth inning when Curtis Granderson and Brendan Ryan both singled with two outs. But Yankees catcher Chris Stewart dropped down a bunt in front of the plate and Jose Molina easily threw him out at first base to end the inning.
The Rays pulled away with four runs in the sixth inning.
The big blast was a two-out, three-run homer by Longoria, his 30th of the season. Longoria joined former Ray Carlos Peña as the only players in team history with three 30-home run seasons.
DeJesus continued to give the Rays offense a jolt when he followed Longoria with a solo home run to right field. It was the eighth time the Rays hit back-to-back home runs this season.
DeJesus has eight RBI over his last eight games.
Longoria smacked his second home run of the night in the ninth inning. It was his second multi-homer game of the year. His first was June 20, also at Yankee Stadium.
“It felt good to win, you know, regardless,” Longoria said, when asked about his two-home run night. “It's really not something I'm just saying. I really don't care at this point how we do it, I just care about winning, to be able to help obviously, do what I did feels a little bit better.”
Alex Cobb, who was named the AL Player of the Week last week after winning both his starts, faces the Yankees tonight. As said before facing Baltimore last Saturday, Cobb said Wednesday he is eager to pitch tonight in another huge playoff-like game.
“I love having the ball in these games,” Cobb said.
Cobb sees these games as a good warm-up for possible postseason starts.
“I like that we're doing this, too,” Cobb said. “I think it all worked out for a reason. We struggled early on and now we're playing meaningful baseball right up until the playoffs.”
Longoria has pretty much the same view of these final four games.
“It's a good sign, because this is how playoff baseball is,” Longoria said. “You have to be able to respond in those big moments in pressure-filled games. To see that from everybody is a good sign.”