Yankees 17, Devil Rays 3

Preview | Box Score | Recap

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP)—The New York Yankees played with purpose, nudging closer to first-place Boston in the AL East.

Jason Giambi hit his 30th homer and drove in five runs, helping the Yankees rout the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 17-3 Tuesday night to pull within 2 1/2 games of the Red Sox and also stay close to front-running Cleveland in the wild-card race.

“This is the fun time of the year,” said Giambi, who homered in his third straight game for the second time this season. “This is what you play the whole season for. … If you don’t play (well) in September, there’s no October.”

Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada had four RBIs apiece, and the Yankees climbed a season-high 19 games over .500.

Jaret Wright (5-2) allowed three runs and five hits in seven innings, winning his third straight decision since coming off the disabled list Aug. 15. He had no decisions in his previous three starts.

“We’ve got to take this as one game,” New York’s Bernie Williams said. “We’ve got to forget about what we did tonight and come out fresh tomorrow.”

Giambi had a three-run homer in the first and a two-run single in the sixth, when New York scored seven runs and batted around for the third time in the game. After getting just 12 homers and 40 RBIs during an illness-filled 2004 season, Giambi has reached 30 homers for the sixth time in his career and driven in 79 runs.

New York finished with 20 hits, 18 of them singles. Matsui went 4-for-4 with a two-run double and two-run single. Posada drew a bases-loaded walk in the first, then followed with a RBI single in the second and two-run single in the sixth.

“The Yankees flexed their muscles. What can I say? … They came out swinging the bats and made a statement,” Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella said.

Tampa Bay has been a troublesome opponent for the Yankees, winning 11 of 16 games between the teams before Tuesday night to put a crimp in New York’s bid for an eighth consecutive division title.

New York manager Joe Torre tinkered with his batting order, moving Alex Rodriguez into the No. 2 hole, hitting Giambi third and placing Gary Sheffield in the cleanup spot for the first time this year. The moves paid immediate dividends.

The Yankees scored five times in the first and added five more runs in the second, with the first seven batters reaching base in each inning against Doug Waechter (5-10) and Dewon Brazelton.

“They got tired of people asking why they can’t win against us,” Tampa Bay’s Carl Crawford said. “They tried to bury us early and just did what they had to do.”

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Yankees scored at least five runs in the first and second innings for the first time since a 14-7 win at Cleveland on July 24, 2002.

New York batted around in the first two innings for the first time since Sept. 18 last year during a 14-4 victory over Boston.

“I just like the fact that we swung the bats,” Torre said. “We haven’t done that very well against this club.”

The big blow in the first was Giambi’s homer. He extended his hitting streak to a season-high nine games, raising his average to .286, and has nine homers and 26 RBIs in his last 15 games.

Wright settled down after allowing a walk and three hits in the first, when Travis Lee had a two-run single. Lee’s two-out double in the fourth was Tampa Bay only hit over the next five innings.

Nick Green drove in Tampa Bay’s third run with the fifth hit off the Yankees starter, a RBI single with two outs in the seventh.

Waechter allowed five runs and five hits and didn’t retire any of the seven batters he faced. Brazelton came on to get Tampa Bay out of the first, but then couldn’t get anybody out in the second. The two Devil Rays pitchers combined to throw 61 pitches, but only got three outs.

“It was just one of those games. It didn’t matter what (Waechter) did,” Crawford said. “The way they came out, it was going to happen to whoever pitched.”

Notes

Sheffield returned to New York’s lineup as the designated hitter after sitting out four games because of a strained left thigh muscle. … Devil Rays pitching coach Chuck Hernandez missed the game with flu-like symptoms. Joe Coleman served as acting pitching coach. … The crowd of 14,048 boosted Tampa Bay’s attendance over the 1 million mark. The Devil Rays were the last team in the majors to reach that plateau. … The Yankees had 11 plate appearances with the bases loaded, going 4-for-9 with two walks and 10 RBIs.

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