NEW YORK -- David Price watched Alex Rodriguez foul off one pitch after another, everyone from his teammates to his manager tensing with each step of a classic battle.
The Tampa Bay Rays led by four runs in the bottom of the fifth inning Thursday night, but the New York Yankees had loaded the bases with one out for their cleanup hitter. Tampa Bay had scratched out five runs against Yankees ace CC Sabathia, but two were unearned, and Sabathia was not particularly generous, striking out a season-high 12, so there was not extensive room for error.
"That's not the position I want to be in against anyone," Price said after Tampa Bay's 7-3 win. "Especially the Yankees and here in Yankee Stadium."
The Rays ace battled the three-time MVP, as A-Rod fouled off each curve Price threw at him.
But Price grew more defiant as the 11-pitch at-bat progressed, and more confident in the curveball he felt was his strongest of the season.
Finally, he used it to strike out Rodriguez, and he then retired Robinson Cano on a grounder to escape the Yankees' biggest threat.
"That's the best my curveball's been all year," Price said "and I wanted to stick with it."
The victory helped the Rays avoid a sweep, and they moved back into a first-place tie with the Baltimore Orioles in the AL East, a half-game ahead of the Yankees. The Rays headed to Miami to face the Marlins dressed all in white as a team theme, starting to finally see the light offensively after scoring one run total in the first two games of the series.
Jose Lobaton and B.J. Upton each had two hits with a run scored and an RBI, while Drew Sutton had a pair of doubles, including a key two-run hit in the fourth. Ben Zobrist responded to a lineup switch with an RBI single and a walk.
The loss snapped the Yankees' three-game winning streak as they prepared to host the Mets in the first round of the annual Subway Series battle.
"Huge win for us," Price said.
Price (8-3) allowed one run on three hits in five innings, but he threw 109 pitches, including 38 in the fifth. He struck out eight, three times getting Curtis Granderson, who fanned four times on the night.
"That was like a complete game, I thought," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He was outstanding. That's a tribute to them with their foul balls and their at-bats. They never give in. His at-bat with A-Rod was spectacular."
Wade Davis pitched two hitless innings in relief and struck out four for the Rays, who used four other relievers to close it out. Raul Ibanez drove in a run in the eighth with a pinch-hit single for New York, and Russell Martin homered in the ninth.
Sabathia (7-3) had the distinction of striking out a season-high 12 batters while tying a season high by allowing five runs in seven innings. But two of those runs were unearned, after an error by Rodriguez in the third helped the Rays take a 3-1 lead.
"We gave 'em an extra out in the one inning," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "The first run he gave up was a jam shot for the RBI. He pitched pretty well."
Said Sabathia of the error: "It's part of the game. These guys have been playing great defense all year, so it's more frustrating not making pitches and picking these guys up."
Maddon shuffled his lineup to help his struggling offense. He moved Desmond Jennings from leadoff to third, Zobrist up to second from fourth, Upton from second to cleanup and put shortstop Elliot Johnson in the top spot. With the lefty Sabathia on the mound, Maddon said he wanted to stack the lineup with right-handed hitters up top. Maddon added that it could be helpful to get the slumping Zobrist some better pitches to hit, between a speedy leadoff hitter and the No. 3 hitter.
The Rays' revamped batting order got to work quickly, pushing across a run in the second on a single by Lobaton that scored Upton, who led off the inning with a double.
After Rodriguez's error in the third allowed Johnson to reach, Zobrist followed with a single and Jennings doubled home Johnson to make it 2-1. The Rays added another run on Upton's sacrifice fly to center.
Tampa Bay opened a 5-1 lead in the fourth, tagging Sabathia for three consecutive hits, including a two-run double by No. 9 hitter Sutton, when he golfed a low pitch to left.
"I really don't know how I hit that one," Sutton said. "After looking at the video, it was probably six inches off the ground. It was a surprise to me."
NOTES: Yankees right-hander Freddy Garcia was placed on the bereavement list following the death of his grandfather in Venezuela, the Yankees announced. Right-hander Ryota Igarashi was called up to take Garcia's spot. ... The cough that has plagued New York first baseman Mark Teixeira most of the season was caused by nerve damage to his vocal chords, Teixeira said he was told by a specialist. Teixeira said the doctor recommended two weeks off, but Teixeira refused and will use medication to deal with the issue, which could last a year. ... Right-hander David Robertson (strained left oblique) threw batting practice at Yankee Stadium on Thursday and now will throw in a rehab game or throw one more batting practice session, manager Joe Girardi said. ... Outfielder Brett Gardner (strained right elbow) took batting practice in Tampa on Thursday and will next join Class A Charleston for a rehab game, Girardi said. ... Tampa Bay right-hander Kyle Farnsworth, sidelined all season due to a right elbow strain, threw to hitters for the first time Wednesday, Maddon said, and experienced no setbacks.