YANKEES 5, RAYS 3: Yanks starter dominates Tampa Bay for fourth time.
ST. PETERSBURG - Before this season, the Devil Rays were the only team in the major leagues that Kevin Brown hadn't faced.
They didn't know how lucky they were.
Brown started against the Rays Saturday for the fourth time this season and beat them for the fourth time, leading the Yankees to a 5-3 victory.
"He likes to pitch against us," shortstop Julio Lugo said. "He's good, what can you say? And today was the best I've seen him."
Brown tormented the Rays with his sinker, holding them to one hit through the first seven innings, then allowing a home run and a double in the eighth that led to three runs.
"The guy really gets it done against us," said catcher Toby Hall, who had two of the Rays' three hits off Brown. "And he's filthy, so that doesn't help."
With new general partner Stuart Sternberg on hand and the largest crowd at the Trop since April 7, a split-loyalties group of 25,692, the Rays had a chance to make some good impressions.
After falling behind 5-0 by giving up another three homers, making it a major-league-high 69 in 47 games, the Rays made their typical bid to make a game of it in the battle of baseball's smallest and largest payrolls.
"Let me tell you this," manager Lou Piniella said, "until the playing field gets a little more level, that's what you're going to have, tight games."
The Rays chased Brown in the eighth, scoring three and getting the tying run to the plate, but it was too soon for a Hollywood ending, with Fred McGriff going down swinging against Tom Gordon.
"You swing a little too hard," McGriff said after the second game of his comeback. "I was just pulling off a little bit."
The Rays gave Brown credit and manager Joe Torre lavished praised, but the typically cranky Brown, who was hit hard in his last outing and had this start moved back from Thursday so his could attend to a undisclosed "personal matter," wasn't impressed.
"I'm glad we won, that's really what it's all about," he grumped. "Personally you want to go out and play better."
Piniella suggested the Rays need to try something different if they are going to do any better against the 39-year-old right-hander.
"He's won four of his six games against us; obviously he feels real comfortable pitching against us," Piniella said.
"You've got to lay off the ball out of the strike zone, that's obvious, but it's probably a little easier to say than to do," he said. "I know I think I'd have to move up in the box to make him get the ball up a little bit. ...
"Once a guy starts getting you out consistently, I think you can use the batter's box a little more and change your approach. Does that help? Will it work? It makes him do a few different things. It doesn't allow him to stay in his own pattern or his own game plan. It makes him alter."
Brown beat the Rays in Tokyo, St. Petersburg and New York on the first three Wednesdays of the season, allowing one run in seven innings each time. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is the first pitcher to beat a team four times before June 1 since Brooklyn's Hugh Casey did it to the Giants in 1941.
"It's been crammed in here together, no doubt about it, a lot of starts against this team in a short period of time," Brown said. "You probably wouldn't expect to have that many starts against one team over the course of the season. ...
"We're two months into it, let's not get ahead of ourselves. It's a lot of season left. If I'm not mistaken we probably play these guys a few more times."
For the Rays, it won't be long enough to see again what Brown can do to them.
"When do we have to face him again?" Jose Cruz asked.
Mid July, he was told.
"Good," he said.