Yankees 7, Devil Rays 6

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP)—Alex Rodriguez concedes the New York Yankees have a lot of work ahead.

Still, winning three of four games against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays to climb above .500 for the first time in more than three weeks is a nice start for a team that spent the first half of the season digging itself into a deep hole.

“It’s huge,” Rodriguez said after a 7-6 victory Sunday. “We have to feel like we want to win series—two out of three, three out of four. Anything else is not what we’re looking for.”

Derek Jeter hit a two-run homer, Andy Phillips snapped an eighth-inning tie with an RBI single and New York (45-44) moved above .500 for the first time since June 22. The second-place Yankees cut Boston’s lead to nine games in the AL East, the first time they’ve been within single digits since June 19.

“This was a hugely important game for us,” manager Joe Torre said. “We just kept hanging in there and grinding.”

Phillips went 2-for-4 with two RBIs and made a diving catch at first base with a runner on second in the eighth, starting an inning-ending double play that preserved a one-run lead. Mariano Rivera wriggled out of a two-on, none-out jam in the ninth for his 426th career save.

Jeter homered off starter Edwin Jackson to finish a four-run fifth inning that erased a 3-0 deficit. Phillips had an RBI triple in the fifth and put the Yankees ahead for good with his eighth-inning single off Gary Glover.

“To be able to contribute on both sides of the ball, as a player you certainly relish it,” Phillips said. “We could have easily let that game get away from us. Guys kept battling. Nobody got down. It’s not a situation you want, but we got back in there and you could feel the energy.”

For the second straight game, the Yankees rallied to win after falling behind 3-0. They put together a three-run eighth after Carlos Pena’s two-run homer off Ron Villone gave Tampa Bay a 5-4 lead in the seventh.

“Those are games we haven’t been winning this year, especially on the road,” Rodriguez said.

Robinson Cano made it 5-all in the eighth with a sacrifice fly off Casey Fossum (5-8), and Jeter put the Yankees up 7-5 with an RBI infield single later in the inning.

Luis Vizcaino (5-2) retired the only batter he faced and got the win. Kyle Farnsworth pitched the eighth and Rivera worked the ninth for his 13th save in 15 opportunities this season.

Tampa Bay’s Akinori Iwamura blooped a single to start the ninth and Carl Crawford reached on catcher’s interference against Jorge Posada. After Brendan Harris failed to bunt the runners over, he grounded into a double play that left Crawford at second. Pena then popped out to end it.

Pena’s homer was his 22nd of the season. He also had an RBI single off Yankees starter Mike Mussina, who trailed 3-0 after also yielding run-scoring singles to B.J. Upton and Crawford in the first two innings.

Ty Wigginton, who was 4-for-4, trimmed New York’s lead to 7-6 with an RBI double off Farnsworth in the eighth.

Jackson entered with the highest ERA (7.23) among all active starters with at least 50 innings pitched this season.

He walked Jeter in the first, allowed singles to Melky Cabrera in the second and Hideki Matsui in the fourth, and might have gotten through New York’s four-run fifth unscathed if Upton hadn’t misplayed Phillips’ line drive to center field into an RBI triple.

Upton, moving to his left, overran the ball, which whizzed past him and rolled all the way to the wall, allowing the first Yankees run to score. Wil Nieves followed with an RBI double and Jeter finished the fifth with his seventh homer of the season.

“The ball hooked,” Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon said, attributing Phillips’ triple to the way baseballs come off maple bats.

“He was on task for it and all of a sudden the ball just made a left turn on him,” Maddon added. “That’s the only kind of a bat you can see the ball do that with.”

Mussina, who left with a 4-3 lead, gave up three singles and two walks during a five-batter span and fell behind 2-0 in the first. Crawford’s RBI single made it 3-0 in the second, but Tampa Bay’s inability to take full advantage of its opportunities eventually caught up with Jackson.

The Devil Rays stranded six runners and had three thrown out on the bases while going 4-for-11 with men in scoring position against Mussina, who yielded three runs and a season-high 11 hits in six innings.

Notes

Torre said he had lunch with owner George Steinbrenner on Friday. Torre, in the final year of his contract, said his future was not discussed. According to Torre, when they were talking about the second half of the season, Steinbrenner told him, “We have to start winning.” … Yankees 1B Jason Giambi (left foot) is expected to start working out this week at the club’s spring training complex. … Pena’s 12-game hitting streak matches the longest of his career. … Attendance was announced as 36,048, giving the Devil Rays consecutive sellouts at home for the first time in franchise history.

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