NEW YORK Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon never imagined he would have to use Jake McGee and Fernando Rodney in the ninth inning Friday night, not when the Rays were sailing along with a nine-run lead and then a seven-run lead and then a six-run lead. But, as Maddon would later say, there are going to be some rugged wins over the course of the season, and Rays had a rugged win against the Yankees Friday. Still, they had a win. A big win. The Rays' 10-6 victory, coupled with the Red Sox's loss in Baltimore, moved the Rays into first place, alone, in the American League East for the first time all season.
Not bad for a team that was in last place on June 23. The Rays celebrated, because they celebrate every win with a post-game clubhouse dance party complete with strobe lights that travel with this team around the country. But first place? It's still July. "Of course there's satisfaction in it," Maddon said, "but there's no complacency in it, either. It's going to be a while. There's a couple of months left and (the Red Sox) are really good. It's always good to validate what you have been doing. You get to that particular point and you're there and you want to stay there, no question. "Now it's up to us to continue to play the game properly." Friday's win was the 20th in the Rays' last 23 games, a run that carried them from seven games back to the top of the division standings. Jeremy Hellickson, pitching in Yankee Stadium for the first time since September 2011, survived a pair of rocky innings to win his 10th game of the season. "That is all the matters," Hellickson said. "It's not hard to win games when I'm getting eight, nine, 10 runs a game. All the credit goes to the offense." Wil Myers extended his streak of at least two hits in a game to seven, one shy of Carl Crawford's team record for multi-hit games set in 2007. Even Longoria also extended his hitting streak to eight games. James Loney drove in the Rays' final four runs, the last three coming on a seventh-inning home run that put the game out of reach. Loney now has 10 home runs after hitting just six last season for the Dodgers and Red Sox. It was 10-1 when Cesar Ramos entered in the eighth inning. Maddon wanted to get the seldom-used Ramos some work. Same with Jamie Wright. But te moves didn't seem so prudent when Ramos and Writer struggled to get outs. The Yankees scored twice in the eight inning and three times in the ninth, forcing Maddon to use McGee to get one out and then Rodney to get the last one. Rodney earned his 25th save of the season, something that seemed unlikely when the Rays were breezing toward their sixth win in seven games on this 10-game road trip. "But, we'll take it," Maddon said. "That's how it is. It's not always an oil painting and you got to live with it." The win came against CC Sabathia, once a noted Rays killer. No more, though. The big lefty allowed seven runs on nine hits in five innings. Sabathia was 7-1 with a 2.44 ERA in 11 starts against the Rays before joining the Yankees in 2009. Since then he has won only four of his 22 starts against Tampa Bay, including just one win in four tries this season. The Rays scored six times off Sabathia while batting around in the second inning. Ben Zobrist led off with a double and scored on a one-out double by Yunel Escobar. Sam Fuld followed a two-out walk to Jose Lobaton with an RBI single. Desmond Jennings then laid down yet another bunt. He beat the throw to first, but that throw sailed up the right field line allowing Lobaton to score and sending Fuld to third base. Longoria, who entered the game with a career .383 average against Sabathia double home a pair of runs. Myers, serving as the designated hitter, singled home Longoria to make it 6-0. The Rays sat in last place on June 23, percentage points behind the fourth-place Blue Jays. They were in fourth place, seven games behind the Red Sox on June 29 when the charge up the division standings began with a 4-3, 10-inning win against the Tigers. That game, famous for the Fernando Rodney-Miguel Cabrera-Jim Leyland flap, began this 20-3 stretch. "It's been outstanding to watch our guys perform," Maddon said. "We were playing such a great game, not just a good game, and unfortunately we let them back up a little bit, but nevertheless held on." And now the Rays are atop the division with the best record in the American League. "But it's one day," Hellickson said. "We have to go out there and win (today) and we got Boston again Monday. "Right now it feels good, but we got to keep on winning." [email protected] (813) 259-7227 Twitter: @RMooneyTBO