ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Russell Martin has had a unique two days.
The Yankees catcher homered and also hit into a triple play in New York’s 5-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday night.
Martin was ejected in Monday night’s series opener when plate umpire Paul Schrieber took exception to Martin’s attempt at making a joke after several close calls on balls and strikes went against the Yankees.
“It’s been unbelievable. … It’s unreal,” Martin said.
Martin grounded into the triple play that helped Jeremy Hellickson escape further damage after Nick Swisher’s RBI double gave New York a 3-2 lead in the sixth.
“That was a big break for them,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
After Swisher’s double, Jorge Posada was walked intentionally to load the bases with no outs. Hellickson, a rookie right-hander, escaped the jam when Martin hit a sharp grounder to third baseman Evan Longoria, who stepped on the bag and threw to second baseman Ben Zobrist for the second out. Zobrist’s relay to first arrived ahead of Martin, who dived head first into the base.
“I just kind of put my head down,” Martin said. “I knew it was happening. Hopefully it’s the last one, too.”
The Yankees, who clinched the East Division title and homefield advantage throughout the AL playoffs last week, rested Derek Jeter and plan to play most — if not all — of their regular lineup again Wednesday in the last game of the regular season. Girardi remained undecided on a starting pitcher for the finale, but it figures to be a reliever.
“We’re professionals,” said Martin, who homered leading off the third to bring the Yankes within 2-1. “We try to win every game. We want to play these guys tough. They just had our number today.”
Matt Joyce and Zobrist homered, helping the surging the Rays continue their improbable chase for the AL wild card.
The Rays, seeking their third playoff berth in four seasons, are tied with Boston after making up nine games in the standings since Sept. 4. The Red Sox beat Baltimore 8-7 on Tuesday, and if the teams are tied after their regular-season finales Wednesday they will meet in a one-game playoff Thursday at Tropicana Field.
New York general manager Brian Cashman reiterated how nice it is to be in a position to not have to go down to the wire.
“I’m not pulling for anybody. I know I’m glad that we were able to do what we did,” Cashman said. “I know that both parties involved, Boston and Tampa Bay, are having sleepless nights. They’re hungry. Rather than have to live through it, I think both want to fast forward it to see what happens. I’ve been there.”
Joyce’s three-run homer off former teammate Rafael Soriano (2-3) was the All-Star’s first in more than three weeks and wiped out a 3-2 deficit in the seventh. Zobrist hit a two-run drive off Bartolo Colon in the second.
Jake McGee (4-2) pitched one scoreless inning to get the win. With a crowd of 22,820 standing and cheering, Kyle Farnsworth got the final three outs for his 25th save in 31 chances. The victory was the fourth straight for Tampa Bay.
Zobrist has homered five times in his last 10 games after going 39 games without hitting one. The Yankees tied it 2-2 in the fourth when Brett Gardner, who had singled, scored from third as Curtis Granderson grounded into a double play.
New York wasted a couple of opportunities to take charge against Hellickson, who allowed three runs and six hits in six innings. Mark Teixeira flied to right field with the bases loaded to end the third.
Colon allowed two runs and seven hits in 5 1-3 innings. Girardi used four relievers — Soriano, Cory Wade, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera — in their final tuneup for the playoffs.
NOTES: Rays DH Johnny Damon singled in the second inning, moving past Lou Gehrig into sole possession of 57th place on the career hits list with 2,722. .. Cashman flew to Florida to take part in a postseason organizational meeting with Girardi and his coaching staff. More talks will take place Wednesday. … Girardi said it’s possible the Yankees will use three starters and have 10 or 11 pitchers overall for the opening playoff round. LHP CC Sabathia and RHP Ivan Nova will start Games 1 and 2. The Yankees have not announced their Game 3 starter. … Cashman confirmed that the New York Mets denied the Yankees request to have their Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre team play one season in Newark. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s stadium is undergoing major renovations.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)