NEW YORK (AP)—Now the New York Yankees have quite a twosome at the top of the lineup.
New York’s new 1-2 punch sparked the offense again. Leadoff hitter Derek Jeter had three of the Yankees’ 16 hits, including a two-run single. Rodriguez, moved up to the No. 2 spot Monday for the first time since 1999, had three RBIs for the second consecutive game.
“I like it a lot,” manager Joe Torre said. “It looks like Alex is relaxed there, very comfortable, very aggressive.”
Gary Sheffield had four hits and Bernie Williams homered for the Yankees, who have three comeback wins in a row to match their season high at 34 games over .500. New York maintained its 2 1/2 game lead in the AL East over Boston, which beat Oakland 7-1.
Rocco Baldelli hit a two-run homer in the first inning for Tampa Bay, which lost its ninth straight—its longest skid since also dropping nine in a row from April 25 to May 10, 2002.
“We need to get one, and we need to get one soon,” Baldelli said.
Every Yankees starter scored. Sheffield’s fourth hit in the seventh prompted chants of “MVP! MVP!” Matsui, the new cleanup hitter, snapped an 0-for-16 skid with three hits.
“Just from a mental standpoint, maybe it’s something fresh, a change,” Matsui said through a translator. “I still take the same approach.”
The Yankees were sharp in almost every facet despite a daylong wait Monday for an afternoon doubleheader that got turned into a single night game. Hurricane Frances caused the Devil Rays to arrive three hours after the scheduled start—but the Yankees were annoyed at the commissioner’s office for the way everything was handled.
The postponed game will be made up Wednesday as part of a doubleheader, beginning at 4:05 p.m.
“It’s men at work right now. We’ve got two big ones tomorrow,” Rodriguez said.
It was the second big performance in a row for Lieber (11-8), who pitched seven shutout innings in a 9-1 victory over Cleveland last Thursday. The sinkerballer allowed nine hits and walked none in 6 2-3 innings before jogging off the mound to a rousing ovation from the crowd of 33,518.
“I feel better than I have all year,” he said.
Matsui’s two-run double off Jorge Sosa (3-4) tied it at 2 in the first, and Rodriguez gave New York a 4-2 lead with a two-run double to right-center in the second.
Sheffield followed with a single to center, but Baldelli made a strong throw to the plate to get Rodriguez, who flattened catcher Brook Fordyce with a high, hard hit.
“It was the first time I’ve ever done that. You know, I never saw the plate,” Rodriguez said. “It’s a war for us right now and we’ve got to do whatever it takes.”
Fordyce stayed down for a minute, but remained in the game.
“When my fingers starting tingling, I said, `OK, I’ve got a shoulder,’ and the feeling came back,” he said. “I thought it was a good play all around by everyone.”
Williams hit his 18th homer leading off the fourth, the first for the Yankees in 38 innings spanning five games.
New York broke it open with six runs in the seventh. One scored on an error by reliever Chad Gaudin, and John Olerud hit an RBI double. Miguel Cairo was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, Jeter hit a two-run single and Rodriguez added an RBI infield single.
“You give a bunch of veteran players a few extra outs and they know what to do with them,” Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella said.
Sosa gave up five runs and nine hits in four-plus innings.
It was New York’s major league-leading 55th comeback victory. … The Yankees are 12-4 against Tampa Bay this season, including 7-0 at Yankee Stadium. They have won 21 of the last 26 meetings. … New York slugger Jason Giambi is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment Wednesday with Triple-A Columbus, which hosts Richmond in the first game of the International League playoffs. … RHP Steve Karsay pitched a perfect ninth for the Yankees, his second outing since coming back from shoulder and back operations that sidelined him since the end of the 2002 season. … Yankees C Dioner Navarro made his major league debut by catching the ninth. … Cairo extended his hitting streak to a season-high nine games. … LF Aubrey Huff rejoined the Devil Rays and went 3-for-4. He missed Monday night’s game because he couldn’t get from his home, which is in a low-lying area, to Tropicana Field and did not accompany the team to New York. … The Devil Rays are 0-2 on their 14-game road trip, the longest in franchise history, and have lost 20 of their past 24 games away from home. … Tampa Bay is 18-40 since it was a season-high two games over .500 (40-38) on July 3.