NEW YORK — Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon said the decision to have Grant Balfour protect a one-run lead in the ninth Tuesday night was born earlier in the day, when Maddon watched as Balfour walked his grandmother through the lobby of the team hotel.
“I was really impressed with that moment,” Maddon said. “I thought he was in for a good night.”
Balfour, serving as the ninth-inning closer for the first time since he lost the role during the second week of June, walked two batters but was able to hold off the Yankees as the Rays extended their winning streak to four with a 2-1 win on a steamy night in the Bronx.
The Rays have won four of the first five games on this 11-game road trip. They have also won 13 of their last 20 games and no longer have the worst record in baseball. The Diamondbacks now bring up the rear.
“We're probably playing our best baseball of the year up to this point over the last three weeks,” winning pitcher David Price said. “We're a very confident group. I feel like we're starting to play the ball we expected to play on Opening Day. If we can get something going, hopefully something cool can happen.”
For this to continue, Maddon said, everyone has to perform their role, and that includes the relievers involved in the closer-by-committee.
Balfour received his first opportunity to enter a game in the ninth inning since he was taken out of the role of closer June 9. He did earn a seven-out save two days later against the Cardinals, but Tuesday was his first test ninth inning test.
“No matter who it is going out there, it's just nice to see us winning games,” Balfour said. “We're just trying to climb the ladder right now, you know.”
The road to the ninth for Balfour began when his grandmother, Joy Holden, arrived in New York after flying cross country from Vancouver. Maddon said he took Grandma Holden to be in her 90s. Balfour said she is in her mid-80s.
Either way, the combination of grandma and grandson was enough for Maddon to place his trust in Balfour.
“I'm sure she was happy I was able to get in,” Balfour said.
Besides, Jake McGee faced the top of the Yankees order when he retired Derek Jeter, Jacoby Ellsbury and Mark Teixeria in the eighth inning.
Price came up one strikeout short in his attempt to strike out at least 10 batters in six consecutive games. Price allowed four hits and one run, and that run scored on a throwing error by Ben Zobrist during a botched rundown between first and second base in the fourth inning.
The Rays had taken a 1-0 lead in the top of the inning when Logan Forsythe singled home Matt Joyce. It was the fourth straight hit for Forsythe, who drove home the winning run in the 12th inning of Monday's win.
James Loney put the Rays ahead when he homered on the first pitch from Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda in the sixth inning.
“You got to pitch well to beat Kuroda, and David did,” Maddon said.
Price said Monday his chances of not being traded will increase as the Rays pile up the victories, then he helped his cause by shutting down the Yankees and winning for the third time in his last four starts.
“To make that statement, you got to go out and do something about it, and I think he has,” Maddon said.
That left the game in Balfour's hands. Balfour walked Carlos Beltran to start the inning and Kelly Johnson with two out. But he got the final out for his 11th save of the season.
“I made my pitches and got the job done with a one-run lead,” Balfour said. “You never know what can happen in baseball. David got it done, we got the win. Obviously, Dave pitched a great game, and you want to go out there and preserve that.”