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Rays run out of comebacks

YANKEES 6, RAYS 5: Tampa Bay rallies to tie twice but falls just short to drop its second straight to New York.

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
Published September 15, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG - Sure, the Devil Rays won 11 of the first 16 games against the Yankees. But those games didn't matter like these games, not if the Yankees are going to make the playoffs, and the difference has been obvious.

Wednesday, the Rays battled them for much of the night. But no matter what they did, the Yankees did just a little more and escaped with a 6-5 win.

"It was a hard-fought game," Rays starter Mark Hendrickson said. "It was a battle. It meant a lot to them. It meant a lot to us. We just came up a little bit short."

The Rays had their chances, leaving the tying run on third in the seventh and ending the game with Julio Lugo thrown out trying to steal second.

The Yankees just did more, forcing the Rays pitchers into deep counts and scoring all six with two outs.

"We're gritty right now, which is important. We're grinding these games, one inning at a time," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "If you expect to win and go places, you have to have a lot of two-out hits."

Three times the Yankees took two-run leads. The first two times the Rays battled back to tie. The third time they couldn't quite get there.

"We had a lead, they came back," Derek Jeter said. "We scored, they scored. You have to try to win every inning. That's the way you have to look at it, because every out is huge."

For the Yankees, every game is huge. They needed to win because of who was in the stands, principal owner George Steinbrenner, and where they are in the standings, remaining 21/2 games behind AL East-leading Boston and one behind wild-card leading Cleveland.

The seventh inning was the key before another unexpectedly small Tropicana Field crowd of 14,396.

The Yankees scored twice to take a 6-4 lead as Jeter, who was 3-for-21 against Rays reliever Travis Harper, delivered a huge two-run single. The Rays responded with a rally that looked promising, with Alex Gonzalez doubling and Joey Gathright singling and stealing second.

But Yankees starter Chien-Ming Wang made what the Rays considered the most critical play, gloving Lugo's sharp comebacker, freezing the runners, then getting the out at first.

"I don't know how he caught that ball," Lugo said. "I think that was the play of the game right there. If that gets through it would be a new story."

As the Yankees ran through three relievers, the Rays got one run on Carl Crawford's groundout, lost Jorge Cantu for the rest of the game and possibly more when Tanyon Sturtze hit him on the left elbow with a pitch and stranded Gathright at third when Tom Gordon got Aubrey Huff on a weak fly to left.

"Tom Gordon, God love him, has been terrific," Torre said. "He's come in with absolutely no room and he's been spectacular."

The Rays had a slim chance in the ninth when Lugo drew a two-out walk off Mariano Rivera, but the Yankees guessed correctly that he was running and called a pitchout, and Jorge Posada threw him out.

"He was too antsy out there," Posada said. "He showed the whole dugout that he was going."

Hendrickson had beaten the Yankees three times this season, but his lack of sharpness wasn't the only difference Wednesday as the Yankees showed their trademark patience at the plate, making him throw 113 pitches in five innings.

"Probably the hardest five innings I've ever pitched," Hendrickson said. "That was probably more the team that I'm used to facing. I thought a couple times earlier this year they were a little bit aggressive than the traditional Yankees are. I don't know if tonight was because I wasn't sharp within the strike zone or if they just decided to work the count and make you throw pitches."

The renewed intensity, the Yankees said, was not a coincidence.

"Whatever it takes to get a W, we have to keep on winning," Posada said. "It's in our hands, so we just have to keep grinding it out and finding a way to win."

[Last modified September 15, 2005, 01:12:12]

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