Yankees 6, Devil Rays 5, 1st game; Yankees 6, Devil Rays 3, 2nd game
NEW YORK (AP)—Bernie Williams gave Yankees fans a pair of reasons to celebrate his 35th birthday.
Williams homered twice in a game for the first time in more than a year and Ruben Sierra added a go-ahead homer in the eighth inning as the Yankees beat Tampa Bay 6-5 in the opener of a day-night doubleheader. Sierra then drove in three runs as New York won 6-3 to complete the sweep.
New York (92-56) matched its longest winning streak of the year at eight, passed Atlanta for the best record in the major leagues and opened a 5 1/2 -game lead over second-place Boston in the AL East. Just a week earlier, the Red Sox routed the Yankees for the second straight day to close within 1 1/2 games.
Yankees captain Derek Jeter caused teammates to gasp in the fifth inning of the second game when he tried to go from first to third on Jason Giambi’s walk. While third was uncovered, he overslid the base and was tagged out by third baseman Jared Sandberg, who rushed to get back.
“The guy didn’t have catcher’s gear on,” joked Jeter, who dislocated his shoulder during a similar play on opening day when he collided at third with Toronto catcher Ken Huckaby.
Mariano Rivera saved both games, needing just 14 pitches to get six outs and raise his season saves total to 37. He’s converted 12 straight chances since struggling in the first half of August, and the Yankees’ offense has come around along with Williams and Giambi, who hit his 38th homer in the second game.
“The guys seem to be getting hot at the right time,” Giambi said. “You want to carry that, hopefully, into the playoffs.”
Before the doubleheader, New York manager Joe Torre found it hard to believe that Williams had turned 35.
“He is old. Maybe I’ll give him a birthday present,” the 63-year-old Torre said playfully. “He has to give me one first.”
Williams hit a solo homer on the first pitch he saw from Rob Bell in the second inning, then drove a 2-1 pitch into the first row of the upper deck in the sixth for a 5-4 lead. It was the first multihomer game for Williams since May 17 last year against Minnesota.
Asked what Williams’ reward for those presents was, Torre replied: “He gets to play the second game.”
Before his go-ahead homer against Boston last Sunday, Williams was 9-for-60. That was the first of four home runs he’s hit on the homestand, which have boosted his season total to 14. In Saturday’s opener he had his first three-hit game since Aug. 23, and in the second game he had two hits and an RBI, giving him RBIs in eight straight games.
After Aubrey Huff’s single tied the score 5-all in the eighth against Gabe White (2-0), Sierra led off the bottom half with a homer to center off Joe Kennedy (3-12). Juan Rivera was the right fielder in New York’s original lineup, but Torre put Sierra in to get him some at-bats, and he responded with his first home run since July 18.
“I crushed that ball,” said Sierra, who had been in a 6-for-37 slide.
Sierra had an RBI single in the first inning of the night game as the Yankees overcame a 2-0 deficit against Carlos Reyes (0-3), then hit a two-run double in the fifth off Jon Switzer. The Yankees have praised Sierra for working hard in a part-time role, saying he’s shown maturity.
“We have a chance to do some fun things,” Torre said. “I think he wants to be a part of it.”
Torre probably would have replaced Sierra with Juan Rivera in right field to start the eighth inning of the opener, but put Rivera in left after Hideki Matsui bruised his knee on the final play of the seventh.
Matsui was hurt when he hit a ball to the right side with two outs and the bases loaded. Kennedy picked up the ball and went for the tag near the foul line, colliding just above Matsui’s left knee.
X-rays were negative and Matsui went 0-for-4 in the second game, remaining stuck on 99 RBIs.
“When the accident happened, I knew there wasn’t anything wrong,” he said through a translator. “It’s a little sore, but it’s not so painful.”
Tampa Bay has lost five straight games and dropped to 0-2-5 in doubleheaders.
“You can only hold good batters down for so long,” Travis Lee said.
While Mussina improved to 11-3 against Tampa Bay, Reyes dropped to 0-4 against the Yankees.
“It’s been a long day,” Reyes said.
Carl Crawford led off both games with singles, extending his career-high hitting streak to 13, and stole his 50th base.
“Hopefully, we can get some sleep and come out strong tomorrow,” he said.
Huff became the second Tampa Bay player to reach 100 RBIs. Fred McGriff did it in 1999 and 2000. … The Yankees made four outs on the bases in the second game. … New York has won eight straight home games for the first time since July 26 to Aug. 14, 1998. … In the opener, Jeff Weaver made his first start since Aug. 18 and allowed singles to his first three batters, fallingbehind 2-0 in the first.