Rays' joy swept away by Yankees

YANKEES 9, RAYS 5: Tampa Bay blows an early lead and drops all three at the Trop.

Published September 16, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG - The Devil Rays had their fun earlier in the season. But now that it matters so desperately much, the Yankees are having theirs.

Thursday, that meant recovering from a four-run fifth-inning deficit to beat the Rays 9-5, sweep the three-game series and, as important with 17 games remaining, moved to within 11/2 games of the AL East leading Red Sox and one-half of the AL wild-card leading Indians.

"That's why the Yankees are the Yankees," outfielder Jonny Gomes said. "The buffoonery they had earlier, that was something else. But they're the Yankees and they're here now. They mean business. And they're not taking no for an answer."

Much had been made of the Rays' 11 wins in the first 16 games, but the Yankees showed what they hope is their true selves these three days, with good-enough starting pitching, clutch hitting and dominating relief work.

They fell behind 5-1 in the fifth Thursday when Gomes hit a three-run homer, his major-league rookie high 20th of the season, but responded rapidly, the 10th time they've won this season when trailing by four or more.

They loaded the bases off Seth McClung on a double, a walk and a single to start the sixth, then tied it when rookie Robinson Cano blasted a misplaced fastball into the rightfield seats, the 10th grand slam allowed by the Rays.

"To come right back and do what we did I thought was huge," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "And it says a lot about how determined these guys are."

An out later, Derek Jeter walked and Alex Rodriguez slammed a 1-and-2 pitch over the left-centerfield wall to make it 7-5 and, the way Aaron Small and relievers Alan Embree, Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera were pitching, over.

"We need each game desperately," Rodriguez said. "And we're playing that way."

To Rays veteran infielder Eduardo Perez, it was obvious.

"I saw a team that had to win to stay in the race and they did it," he said. "They did what they had to do and what they get paid to do."

McClung was cruising in his first start against the Yankees, allowing only two singles through the first four innings and a single run through five. He complained some about getting a warning, and thus losing the ability to pitch inside as much, after hitting Rodriguez in the fifth, and about the number and volume of Yankees fans among the Tropicana Field crowd of 18,391.

But his biggest problem were the two two-seam fastballs that stayed over the plate and ended up over the fence.

"It really got away from me real quick," McClung said. "It's disappointing to lose one like this because I felt like we were beating them."

Instead, it turned out to be the major-league high 17th time the Rays lost this season after leading by at least three.

Rays manager Lou Piniella noted before the game that the Yankees had seemed extremely focused. Afterward, he amended his comment slightly.

"First of all they've got the talent to focus," he said. "You can focus all you want. But if you don't have the talent you're not going to be quite as focused as the team that has the talent. They have the talent. And they have focus now, there's no question about it. They're going to be awfully tough.

"We should feel really good about beating them 11 times. We should really feel good."