Johnny Damon(notes), Casey Kotchman(notes) and Kelly Shoppach(notes) all connected in the third inning for three of Tampa Bay’s five solo home runs against CC Sabathia(notes), and Price again came out on top in a matchup of these elite lefties, lifting the Rays over the New York Yankees 5-1 Friday night.
“You talk about the homers, but the pitching and defense were spectacular,” the Rays manager said.
With a full moon looming over the famed Yankee Stadium frieze in right field, light-hitting Elliot Johnson(notes) and Evan Longoria(notes) also homered—the 100th of his career—in Tampa Bay’s fifth straight win.
The five homers were the most Sabathia (16-7) has allowed in his career and the most a Yankees pitcher has given up since David Wells did it in 2003. The Rays’ previous high for home runs in a game this season was three.
“You never know what you’re going to see at the ballpark,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “Tonight was a strange night.”
Price (10-10) improved to 3-0 in the five times he’s faced Sabathia, pitching eight dominant innings of six-hit ball.
More importantly for the Rays, who began a six-game trip against the Yankees and Red Sox hoping to close a big gap in the AL East, Price snapped a six-week skid in which he went 1-4 in eight starts.
“Almost pitched a little bit backwards from what he normally does. Threw a lot of off-speed stuff earlier in counts,” Shoppach said. “And it worked. He was able to throw them for strikes and get them swinging early which is how he was able to go so deep in the game.”
The first inning should have felt familiar to Price, though. Derek Jeter(notes) led off with a single against the lanky lefty. Hit No. 3,034 of Jeter’s career came with none of the fanfare that accompanied his three knocks the last time he faced Price at the ballpark in the Bronx. Jeter’s second hit on July 9 was a home run for the milestone 3,000th.
Price benefited from some fine defense, too. Shoppach made a difficult tag at home on a strong relay by second baseman Sean Rodriguez(notes) to prevent a second run in the fourth. Rodriguez made a sliding stop in the eighth to start an inning-ending double play, one of two DPs that Jeter hit into.
“What a throw by Sean. Holy cow,” Shoppach said of the relay home.
Kotchman was the first Rays player to hit the ball out of the infield against Sabathia. His fly in the third landed in the second deck in right field. Shoppach followed with a long homer to left, the third time the Rays went back-to-back this season.
Sabathia then struck out two looking before Damon accomplished what he had done plenty of times in four seasons with the Yankees: He sent a high fly that just cleared the short porch in right field.
The only other time Sabathia gave up three homers in an inning was May 1, 2007, against Toronto when he was with Cleveland. He hadn’t given up more than one home run in a game this season.
“It just happens,” Sabathia said. “I just don’t know what else to say.”
Sabathia followed his worst start of the year—seven runs in six innings against Boston—by going eight innings and yielding five runs and a season high-tying 10 hits. He struck out seven and did not walk a batter.
The Yankees finally nicked Price in the fourth, when Robinson Cano(notes) singled for New York’s first hit since Jeter led off with a single. Nick Swisher(notes) walked and Andruw Jones(notes) hit a line-drive double into the right-center gap, scoring Cano.
Swisher tried scoring from first but Rodriguez was on the money with the relay and Shoppach blocked Swisher from getting a hand in to touch the plate. Although home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi was already calling Swisher out, Shoppach bounded up and tagged Swisher, keeping the score 3-1.
“All I kind of had to do was sit on the plate and make sure he didn’t touch it,” Shoppach. “I knew he didn’t touch it. That’s why I got up, just to make sure everybody was on the same page.”
Maddon put righty-swinging Johnson in the lineup as a “best guess” for beating Sabathia. Johnson, who had struck out in 12 of his previous 22 at-bats— including his first Friday—proved his skipper right. He led off the fifth with a homer to left to restore the three-run lead.
NOTES: Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez(notes) homered in his first at-bat for Class-A Tampa, his first rehab game. He was the DH and also doubled and struck out. … Rays RHP Alex Cobb(notes) (right hand discomfort) had his surgery to remove a blockage in the area of his first right rib postponed because he had a reaction to medication he was taking. … Maddon said John Jaso(notes) (right oblique strain) is progressing well in his rehab. “He’s been swinging the bat well. … Sounds like he’s on schedule.” … Kotchman is batting .447 (17 for 38) with four HRs and eight RBIs in his last 10 games.