ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon sat alone in his office, waiting for the reaction of his players gathered around a cluster of televisions in the middle of the clubhouse. The Rays beat the New York Yankees 5-2 on Monday night, then celebrated yet another loss that left the AL wild-card race tied with two games to go.
“I didn’t want to expend any more energy in front of a TV,” Maddon said. “It was fun to listen to guys from afar.”
James Shields came within one out of his 12th complete game, yielding six hits. Kyle Farnsworth finished for his 24th save, closing it out moments before the Red Sox lost 6-3 at Baltimore. The Rays and Red Sox each have two games left.
“It’s been a nice little run. All the stars have been aligned for us and here we are,” Shields said. “This is what baseball is all about.”
B.J. Upton drove in two runs with a third-inning double off Hector Noesi (2-2). Kelly Shoppach homered for the second straight day for the Rays, who’ve won three straight and are 14-7 since Sept. 4, when they trailed Boston by nine games. Johnny Damon’s third-inning RBI single moved him into a tie with Lou Gehrig for 57th on the career hits list with 2,721.
Robinson Cano homered in the first and hit an RBI single in the third, giving the Yankees a 2-0 lead against Shields, who allowed just five baserunners over the last six innings. The All-Star right-hander walked three and struck out four to win for the first time in three starts.
“It’s great. We’re really into it. We feel good about this. We like our chances,” Maddon said.
“There’s a real strong believability about what we’re trying to accomplish right now,” the manager added. “It means something to be that far back at the beginning of this month and now we’re tied with a couple of games to go. That’s quite an accomplishment in and of itself. But when you get to this point, you really want to finish things off.”
Shields (16-12) left after walking Eric Chavez. Farnsworth got Jesus Montero to ground out with a crowd of 18,772 on its feet. As the Rays retreated to the clubhouse, fans remained standing while watching a large video screen airing the ninth inning of the Red Sox-Orioles game.
There was an erupted of cheers when the Orioles got the final out.
“Our fate is in our hands,” Shields said. “We don’t have to worry about the Red Sox losing now. That feels really good, especially how far we were back.”
“There’s not a lot of people out there who had faith in us, but here we are,” the pitcher added. “This is where we want to be. We’re down to the last two games of the year, and we control our own fate.”
The Yankees clinched the AL East title for the 12th time in 16 seasons last week during a 6-2 homestand in which they also helped the Rays by winning two of three against Boston. They flew to Florida following Sunday night’s 14-inning loss to the Red Sox, arriving at their Tampa hotel around 5 a.m.
Even though New York also has clinched home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs, manager Joe Girardi said he would play each game of this series to win while also trying to set his team up for the start of the playoffs on Friday.
“We’re playing to win. I’ve got Bartolo (Colon) tomorrow and I’ve got a loaded bullpen. We’re playing to win games, but I also have to pick the time I use my relievers,” Girardi said. “If you get in some long games Friday and Saturday, I’ve got to make sure that they can go multiple innings. My responsibility is to this club.”
That’s exactly the way Maddon anticipated the Yankees approaching the week.
“I know they’ll have to do some things with their playoff situation, but they’re going to play it straight up I’m pretty sure. Even when they bring the reserves in, they’re pretty good also,” Maddon said before the game. “At the end of the day, the Rays have got to play. We have to win our own games and not worry about anybody else.”
The Yankees rested starters Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher, with Jorge Posada starting at first base and Eduardo Nunez in right field. Phil Hughes, who’s been bothered by a sore back, was one of six pitchers Girardi used, pitching for the first time in two weeks and allowing no runs and one hit in 1 2-3 innings.
Noesi, a reliever making his second start in five days against the Rays, allowed three runs and five hits in two-plus innings. Damon drove in the final run charged to the Yankees starter with his RBI single off Raul Valdes, then the Rays ran themselves out of what could have been an even bigger inning.
With runners at first and third and one out, Damon and Evan Longoria were both caught stealing after Damon took off for second and stopped. Posada tagged Damon out from behind in a rundown, then threw to the plate to catch Longoria trying to score from third.
Posada also threw Upton out at the plate in the first, fielding a sharp grounder from Ben Zobrist before stepping on first and throwing to catcher Russell Martin, who put the tag on Upton to finish an inning-ending double play that protected a 1-0 lead.
Undeterred, the Rays kept pushing, playing the aggressive style that’s helped them get back in the race.
“We don’t worry about the Red Sox. We don’t worry about anybody. We come out and play our game every night,” Maddon said. “We’ve got to worry about beating the Yankees (Wednesday). If we take care of our own business, then the seconds, the minutes, the hours and the days take care of themselves.”
NOTES: Martin was ejected in the fifth inning after exchanging words with plate umpire Paul Schrieber. … Shields gave up a one-out single to Nunez in the seventh inning, them picked him off first base. His 13 pickoffs lead the majors. … The Yankees plan to use Hughes twice out of the bullpen twice during this series. If he’s on the postseason roster, Hughes would be a reliever. … Girardi said backup C Francisco Cervelli, who has been on the DL since Sept. 13, experienced concussion-like symptoms while doing baseball activities before the game.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)