ST. PETERSBURG — There was Evan Longoria turning a double play that went around the horn, Yunel Escobar making big plays up the middle, same with Ben Zobrist. Saturday night belonged to the defense and, of course, the pitching. But especially the defense. At one point, Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon turned to bench coach Davey Martinez and said the Rays had to beat the Yankees because of how well they were playing defense.
“It was that good,” Maddon said. Then came Sean Rodriguez's leaping catching at the left-field wall in the sixth inning on a drive Alfonso Soriano thought he smacked into the stands. A pick me up? “Absolutely,” said winning pitcher David Price. The Rays finally solved Yankees starter CC Sabathia that inning, taking the lead in what became a 4-2 victory in front of 32,862 at Tropicana Field. It was the eighth win in the past 10 games for the Rays and it enabled them to remain percentage points ahead of the Red Sox in the American League East standings. “If we can pitch like that and catch the ball like that and be in the right spots, that's how we're going to get to the promised land,” Maddon said. Price and Sabathia hooked up for the ninth time. The Rays have won eight of those meetings, and Price is 6-1 with a 2.68 ERA when facing Sabathia. It's a matchup Price enjoys, more so because he knows he has to be at his best to beat Sabathia. “Absolutely, I enjoy beating anybody,” Price said. “I don't care who it is. I don't care if they want to start a position player on the mound, I want to win.” The Yankees took a 2-0 lead in the fifth inning when they loaded the bases with one out on a trio of singles against Price. The first run scored when Austin Romine drew a walk on a full count. The second came when Ichiro Suzuki chopped the ball to Zobrist, who could only make one play and got the out at first as Vernon Wells scored the second run of the inning. The Rays had only one hit at that point – a two-out double by Longoria in the first inning. With one out in the sixth, Soriano drove a ball to deep left. “Off the bat both I and Soriano thought it was a home run,” Maddon said. “I don't know what happened. The air conditioning pushed it down.” Soriano dropped his bat and took a little hop as he headed toward first base to start what he believed to be his home run trot. “I didn't think he hit it that good,” Price said. “But when I saw the replay in here and he did his hop, jump and a skip, I figured it was 30 rows deep … that's definitely six, seven rows deep in New York, but it's an out here.” Rodriguez ran back and jumped, catching the ball before landing at the base of the wall. The ball was not leaving the park, but Rodriguez did rob Soriano of extra bases. Price tipped his cap. “Anytime anybody makes a great play on defense like that, it gives us a little boost,” Sam Fuld said. “We didn't need it (Saturday) night. The energy in the ballpark was awesome.” Fuld singled to start the bottom of the sixth. Desmond Jennings drew a walk. Zobrist lined a double into the left-center field gap and both runners scored to make it a 2-2 game. Longoria singled home Zobrist to give the Rays the lead and make a winner out of Price. He's 7-1 with a 1.97 ERA since July 2 when he returned from the disabled list. Longoria then gave closer Fernando Rodney a little breathing room with a home run to center field in the eighth for the final run of the night. “The game began and our guys believed we were going to win that game somehow,” Maddon said. “Not in a cocky way, just in a very confident way. When you get to that point in the year – almost September – and you get that vibe among your group, it's kind of a good thing. We've been there before as a playoff team, and it really smells that way now.”