NEW YORK – The night belonged to Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer of all-time who climbed the mound at Yankee Stadium one last time during his storied career.
The packed house in the Bronx chanted his name while the Tampa Bay Rays were smacking around some reliever in the top of the eighth inning. The crowd then exploded when Yankee manager Joe Girardi called for Mo.
Like he had so many times during his career, Rivera pitched out of the jam, retiring the two batters he faced.
Again, the crowd stood, cheered and chanted his name.
The night, indeed, belonged to Mo.
But the game belonged to the Rays, who took another step toward a wild-card playoff spot with a 4-0 victory to run their winning streak to seven. They maintained their slim, one-game lead over the Cleveland Indians in the wild-card standings with three games to play.
“We feel like we can go all the way,” Rays pitcher Joel Peralta said.
Alex Cobb continued his impressive late-season run, and Evan Longoria drove in more runs against Yankee pitching — three on Thursday and nine during the series — as the Rays swept the Yankees in a three-game series at the Stadium for the first time in franchise history.
The win was also the Rays' 90th, giving them four straight seasons with at least 90 wins. That's the longest active streak in the major leagues.
“This is the time where you hope things start to click, whether it's personally or as a team,” Longoria said. “Being able to drive some runs in and ultimately win the ball game is all I care about.”
Cobb allowed one hit — a first-inning single to Eduardo Nunez — through the first seven innings. He retired 15 straight at one point.
“We need these games right now,” Cobb said. “Every game is a playoff game right now. The energy is a do or die feel every game. It's definitely nice to put up a quality start.”
Cobb pitched into the eighth inning and allowed just three hits, but the final two were a double by Curtis Granderson and a single by Lyle Overbay to start the eighth and force Rays manager Joe Maddon to call for Peralta.
Peralta, protecting the four-run lead, slammed the door with a pair of strikeouts and a fly ball to center field.
“That pretty much was the game right there,” Maddon said.
Longoria singled home Wil Myers in the fourth inning to give the Rays a 1-0 lead. Delmon Young made it a 2-0 lead with a sixth-inning home run, his second since joining the Rays.
Longoria made it a four-run game with a two-run single in the eighth off Dellin Betances.
Rivera got Young to line out to left field, and Sam Fuld to bounce back to the mound. He walked off the mound to a thunderous ovation. The Rays stood in front of their dugout and applauded.
“Anybody would have done that,” David Price said. “It wasn't us going out of our way. He probably deserves more than that. Everybody should have taken off their hats and started bowing to him. What he's done in this game, especially with one pitch, it's remarkable.”
Peralta watched the event unfold from the Rays bullpen.
“I got watery eyes. I almost cried,” Peralta said. “He's a role model, he's hero to me. He's a guy I believe every reliever want to be like that guy. He's amazing. He's just amazing. He's amazing.”
Rivera came out for the ninth and retired the first two batters he faced. That's when Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter walked to the mound for an emotional pitching change.
Rivera and his long-time teammates shared long, emotional embraces on the mound, and Yankee Stadium erupted again.
Maddon said he enjoyed the moment.
“The lead made it somewhat more pleasing,” Maddon said. “They know how to do things here in regards to pomp and circumstance.”
After the game, Rivera went to the mound to collect some clay.
Meanwhile, the Rays celebrated another victory that brought them closer to another playoff berth. The rookies then changed into risqué costumes for the annual rookie dress-up night and prepared for their charter flight to Toronto for the final three games of the season.
“I was just telling Jose (Molina), I didn't think (Thursday) could go any better for us as far as the outcome of the game, being able to experience that whole thing (with Rivera) and having the rookie dress-up on the same day,” Longoria said. “It's like we hit the trifecta.”
SS Yunel Escobar was scratched from the original starting lineup but entered the game as a defensive replacement in the eighth inning. Sean Rodriguez made his first start this season at second base as Ben Zobrist moved from second to short in the revised lineup … It was a team-record 17th shutout this season for the Rays … 1B James Loney reached base in all four trips to the plate. He hit .475 this season in 10 games at Yankee Stadium … The Rays have won 12 of their last 15 games after winning only four of their previous 17.