NEW YORK (AP) — Rays manager Joe Maddon heard a few cheers coming from the clubhouse and reached for the computer mouse. He knew what had just happened. He wanted to know how.
“Niiiice,” Maddon said after learning the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Los Angeles Angels in the 12th inning.
Indeed, it was a nice night for Tampa Bay.
Matt Moore struck out 11 in five innings of his first major league start and the Rays unloaded on the watered-down Yankees for a 15-8 victory Thursday, a night after New York clinched the AL East title.
The Rays avoided a four-game sweep and pulled within two games of idle Boston in the AL wild-card race. Both teams have six games left. The Angels dropped three back of the Red Sox when Toronto’s Edwin Encarnacion hit a walk-off homer.
“We kind of feel like we have to” win all their remaining games, Johnny Damon said.
Before this game, New York catcher Russell Martin declared how much he hated the Red Sox and would like to see them miss the playoffs. Tampa Bay took advantage of four Yankees errors, two by shortstop Derek Jeter, and romped.
B.J. Upton was a double shy of the cycle in four at-bats, Ben Zobrist homered among his three hits and Damon also connected for Tampa Bay. Facing a lineup of backups and rookies, the Rays roughed up Bartolo Colon and led 13-0 in the fifth inning. Seven players wearing No. 60 or higher played for New York.
Making a spot start in place of Jeff Niemann (back) in a key September game for the Rays, Moore (1-0) calmly buzzed through five innings on the big stage of Yankee Stadium. He allowed just four hits and established a team record for strikeouts in a first start. Wade Davis fanned nine Sept. 6, 2009.
“Obviously it wasn’t all their lineup but there was a lot of good hitters in that lineup and he attacked them,” Maddon said. “His composure, Yankee Stadium, throwing strikes, all those things speak to the make up of Matt Moore.”
The 22-year-old, who threw a no-hitter for Double-A Montgomery on June 16, mixed a 97 mph fastball, changeup and sharp curveball to earn his first big league win in front of his dad and four other family members. This was his third game in the majors.
“Facing Jeter as the first hitter my nerves seemed to be in check and I could feel comfortable, Moore said.
After wrapping up their 12th AL East title in 16 years Wednesday, New York dialed it down a notch. Players did not have to report until 5:30 p.m., an hour after batting practice usually starts for a night game. And manager Joe Girardi rested Martin, Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez, Brett Gardner, Robinson Cano and made Mark Teixeira the designated hitter.
The Yankees that played were out of sync in the field. Along with his errors, Jeter struck out twice before being replaced.
“You’ve got to go out there and perform the way we should be performing,” Andruw Jones said. “Nothing was different in attitude when the game began.”
Colon (8-10) made New York’s postseason pitching plans even murkier. He gave up seven runs — five earned — and seven hits in three innings and is winless since July 30, a span of nine starts.
With CC Sabathia and youngster Ivan Nova the only starters to lock up a postseason start, Girardi is looking for someone to distinguish themselves in the final week. Phil Hughes has a bad back and A.J. Burnett has struggled all season. Freddy Garcia will have a chance to lock down the third spot this weekend against Boston.
“You think about the third game is going to be five days from Wednesday, so you can pretty much let everyone continue to pitch and make that decision at the end of it,” said Girardi about how he plans to go about picking a No. 3 starter.
Martin’s jibe aside, the Yankees have three games against the Red Sox this weekend and three at Tampa Bay next week. Girardi has to balance finding rest for a veteran lineup that has been plagued by nagging injuries late this season with fielding a competitive club as the wild card goes down to the wire.
“Our responsibility is to our club. That’s the bottom line,” he said before the game. “I have to make sure our guys are healthy and rested and ready to go next Friday. … Obviously our goal is to get home-field advantage, and the important thing to me about some of these lineups is that we take care of our guys and have them ready to play next Friday.”
They sure weren’t ready after the bubbly flowed late after the doubleheader sweep Wednesday. The Rays were 1 for 20 with runners in scoring position in the series entering the finale, but they had three hits in those situations through two innings Thursday.
The Rays’ big inning came in a five-run fourth, when Upton and Damon each hit two-run homers, eliciting boos from the crowd of 47,470. Zobrist connected in the third and went 3 for 3 with a sacrifice fly after leaving six on base in the doubleheader.
Dane De La Rosa gave up six runs in 1 1-3 innings of relief for the Rays. He yielded Jones’ two-run homer in the sixth.
NOTES: The teams combined to use 28 position players and 12 pitchers. … The Yankees struck out a season-high 15 times. … Maddon said Niemann is on track to start Saturday. … Yankees pitchers Andrew Brackman and Dellin Betances made their major league debuts. … The Yankees’ rotation against Red sox this weekend: Garcia (11-8), A.J. Burnett (10-11) and Nova (16-4). … David Price (12-12) will start against the Blue Jays’ Brandon Morrow (10-11) on Friday. Price left Sunday’s outing in Boston after getting hit on the right side of his chest by a line drive.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)