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Yankees’ Bullpen Implodes, Rays Gain Ground

1-Run Deficit Prior To 2-Hour Rain Delay Turns Into Rout
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(Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

(Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

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NEW YORK (AP) — Music was pumping in the Tampa Bay clubhouse, boisterous laughter was echoing from the showers. No matter the late hour, these Rays were jazzed.

It’s a pennant race after all – and Tampa Bay was back on track.

EXTRAS: Boxscore | Photos
LISTEN: A.J. Burnett | Joe Girardi | David Robertson | Yankees Rewind

Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria hit consecutive homers Wednesday night, and the Rays feasted on a fallible New York bullpen after a long rain delay took some of the luster out of a key September game for a 7-2 victory over the Yankees.

“Just a well-played game,” manager Joe Maddon said after the Rays snapped a three-game skid. “It was one of our better games played in recent memory.”

Dan Johnson hit his third homer against New York in a week, and the Rays’ bullpen outpitched the pinstriped relievers to help Tampa Bay pull within 1 1/2 games of New York in the AL East in a game that ended at 12:34 a.m. Tampa Bay improved to 9-8 in the season series – the first tiebreaker should the teams be equal after 162 games – with one game to go.

The finale of the four-game set Thursday night is highlighted by the anticipated rematch of Cy Young Award candidates CC Sabathia and David Price after they went zero for zero for eight innings on Sept. 13 in Florida.

Wade Davis had his promising start cut short in the third inning by a stoppage of 2 hours, 11 minutes. He pitched 2 1-3 innings without giving up a hit. Yankees right-hander A.J. Burnett allowed a sacrifice fly to Longoria in the first.

“It would’ve been nice to have a go at it,” Davis said. “I was moving around for about an hour. I couldn’t stop moving, but it is what it is. We played a good game. (Jeremy) Hellickson pitched great. The bullpen pitched great. Can’t ask for much more.”

About half the crowd of 46,986 remained after the thunder and lightning abated on a steamy night that felt more like mid-August than the first day of fall.

“I think it killed it,” Yankees designated hitter Lance Berkman said of the delay. “To me, it was a totally different feel. The crowd was gone, the electricity that was there the first two games was gone.”

Despite seeing Royce Ring in his Yankees debut and rookie Jeremy Hellickson on the mound when play resumed, the stakes were just as high for the top two teams in the division.

Hellickson (4-0) kept the Yankees hitless until Berkman lined his first homer for New York with one out in the fifth to cut the Rays’ lead to 2-1. He hit 13 for Houston.

“You watch him out there chewing his gum, making his pitches. It’s really neat to see the kid, that inexperienced, handle such a moment,” Maddon said.

Johnson connected leading off the sixth to restore the two-run lead, and the Rays looked as if they were headed for a big inning against Dustin Moseley, who gave up hits to five of the eight batters he faced. But Gold Glover Mark Teixeira made two fine plays at first base to keep it to a run.

First, he raced in to cut off a grounder by Reid Brignac and threw home to nail Matt Joyce trying to score. Then he started a 3-6-3 double play on Dioner Navarro’s grounder to end the inning.

Hellickson gave up two runs in 3 1-3 innings for the win. Randy Choate got an out in the sixth, Grant Balfour pitched a scoreless seventh and Joaquin Benoit worked the eighth. Chad Qualls finished.

Alex Rodriguez made it 3-2 with an RBI single in the bottom of the sixth, driving in Derek Jeter, who passed Mickey Mantle for third on the Yankees career runs list with 1,678.

Crawford and Longoria homered in a span of three pitches from Chad Gaudin with two outs in the seventh, and Jonathan Albaladejo walked Ben Zobrist with the bases loaded in the eighth for a 6-2 lead. When Albaladejo threw his next strike, the testy Bronx crowd gave a sarcastic cheer, one of several in the late innings.

Burnett (10-14) made a behind-the-back grab of Longoria’s grounder and threw to first to end the third with a runner on second base.

“I felt strong. I felt like I had a good hook,” Burnett said. “Especially in a series like this you want to be out there, but you can’t control that (the rain). It’s not going to set me back.”

Notes: Yankees late-inning reliever Dave Robertson had an MRI that showed a back strain. “The good news is that it’s muscular. I’m a little bit concerned, but it’s muscular and that will go away,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “My guess is that we won’t have him tomorrow.” … Rodriguez donated the cleats he wore when he hit his 600th homer to the Hall of Fame during a brief ceremony before the game. … Crawford stole two bases and has 46 this season.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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