ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP)—The road-weary New York Yankees headed to their new home feeling pretty good about themselves.
That’s what winning five of seven following an ugly start to a nine-game road trip can do to spirits.
“I told you our season wasn’t over after two games,” captain Derek Jeter said, smiling after singling in the go-ahead run in the ninth inning of Thursday’s 4-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays. “We’re just playing pretty good now.”
The Yankees took two straight from the defending AL champions after losing the series opener 15-5.
The trip began with consecutive losses in Baltimore, but manager Joe Girardi likes what’s happened since then.
“We knew starting out, nine in a row (on the road) was tough,” Girardi said. “We knew three in a row here was tough. We understand what a good team the Rays are. To start out 0-2 and go 5-4, I’m very pleased.”
Now, it’s home to New York for Thursday’s debut of the $1.5 billion new Yankee Stadium, across 161st Street from the house that Ruth built. CC Sabathia makes his first home start against his former team, the Cleveland Indians.
“It’s been a long trip. … We look forward to breaking in a new ballpark,” pitcher Andy Pettitte said. “It’s going to be an exciting day for us.”
Pettitte pitched into the eighth inning, Robinson Cano hit a two-run homer and Jeter went 2-for-4 a day after hitting a three-run, ninth-inning homer to help the Yankees win the middle game of the series 7-2.
Jeter also doubled in the eighth and scored the tying run on Johnny Damon’s double off J.P. Howell. He delivered the tiebreaking run against Troy Percival (0-1) following a one-out double to Cody Ransom.
“It’s going to be like this all year in this division—a lot of close games,” said Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon, whose bullpen was unable to shut down the Yankees in the late innings for the second straight day.
Pettitte, who allowed three runs and six hits in 7 1-3 innings, pitched the final game in the old Yankee Stadium last year but it wasn’t his turn to pitch the opener in the new one.
He has been tough on Tampa Bay, going 15-4 in 25 career starts. At one point he won 12 consecutive decisions, though the Rays have fared better against him lately.
“It all starts with pitching,” Jeter said. “We just want to get rolling and play, that’s the bottom line. With the pitching staff we have, we feel as though we’re capable of winning every day, regardless of what team we’re playing. … It’s a good start for us. But we’ve got a long way to go.”
B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford delivered RBI doubles for Tampa Bay in the third. After Cano’s two-run homer off Andy Sonnanstine made it 2-all in the fourth, Carlos Pena led off the bottom half of the inning with his fourth homer of the season to put the Rays ahead again, 3-2.
Sonnanstine, who struggled with his command during a loss at Baltimore last week, allowed two runs and four hits in five innings. The right-hander struck out three and walked one before he was replaced by Joe Nelson.
The Yankees had little success against the Rays’ bullpen until the eighth, when Jeter lined a double over Upton’s head in deep center field. Howell replaced Grant Balfour and gave up Damon’s tying double down the right field line.
Howell steadied to keep New York from taking the lead. The lefty struck out Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher, then walked Jorge Posada intentionally before getting Cano to ground into an inning-ending force play.
Although Tampa Bay’s bullpen has struggled after being one of baseball’s best in 2008, Maddon said he’s not concerned.
“As long as they’re healthy, I know they’re going to be fine,” Maddon said. “Nobody’s going to be perfect.”
Percival, who had back surgery during the offseason, agreed.
“There’s no panic involved. We didn’t execute some pitches out of the bullpen today,” the closer said. “That’s what’s going to happen when you’re facing teams like Boston and New York. You face good teams, you’ve got to execute.”
Yankees RF Xavier Nady is headed for the disabled list with a right elbow injury and could be sidelined for a while. He felt a sharp pain while making a throw in the seventh inning of Tuesday night’s 7-2 win over the Rays. … Pena has three homers and nine RBIs in his last four games. … The start of the game was delayed 10 minutes because of an interruption of power that knocked out a bank of lights at Tropicana Field. … Rays 3B Evan Longoria missed the game because of a death in the family. He will also miss Thursday night’s game against the Chicago White Sox. He’s expected to rejoin the team on Friday. … Girardi said it’s possible that 3B Alex Rodriguez, who had right hip surgery just over five weeks ago, could begin taking batting practice by this weekend. … Yankees RHP Chien-Ming Wang, 0-2 with a 29.38 ERA in two starts this season, is working on slowing down his left leg during his delivery. He threw a 21-pitch batting-practice session before the game.