ST. PETERSBURG — Something at Tropicana Field on Tuesday night reminded Ben Zobrist of the good old days. It must have been the good pitching, the good defense and clutch hitting turned in by the Tampa Bay Rays in their 6-2 victory against the visiting New York Yankees.
“That’s the Ray Way,” Zobrist said. “We’ve done that in patches this year. If we can do that the rest of the year, it will be great.”
Scott Kazmir turned in his longest performance since June 6, 2008, when he pitched into the eighth inning for his first win since May 9, when he beat the Red Sox in Boston.
Just about everyone on defense made a big play at some point.
Offensively, the Rays were only 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position, but they scored a run on a sacrifice fly, a throwing error, a triple by Carl Crawford, a home run by Evan Longoria and a double by B.J. Upton.
The lone hit with a runner in scoring position came when Jason Bartlett reached on a two-out infield single in the sixth inning. Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira knocked down Bartlett’s soft line drive, but Bartlett out-raced Teixeira to the bag. Gabe Kapler, who stretched a single to a double and moved to third when Dioner Navarro bounced out to second base, scored on the play.
Had Bartlett not hustled down the line, the inning would have ended and the Rays would not have scored, meaning it would have been a 4-1 game heading into the ninth and not a 6-1 Rays lead.
“We pitched and played some defense, and we happened to win the game,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “How about that? It’s nice to see it all coming together. That’s what we’re all about. When we pitch and play defense, we normally come out on top.”
The Rays picked up a game on both the Yankees and Red Sox. They now trail the first-place Yankees by 6 1/2 games and the Red Sox, who lead the AL wild Card race, by 4 games.
The Rays can shave another game off the Yankees lead with a win Wednesday night. The victory would also give the Rays the series.
Maddon is trying his best to downplay this series, because he doesn’t want his players to put more pressure on themselves.
But the players are saying this is a big series.
“Yeah it’s a big game,” Kazmir said. “Once you get down to this point of the season where we are in the standings, every game is huge, especially when you’re playing a team ahead of you.”
More on Kaz
Kazmir has allowed one earned run in three of his last five starts.
He held Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and Robinson Cano, the three left-handers in the Yankees batting order, to a combined 1-for-9.
His 113 pitches were a season high. So were his 72 strikes.
It was the first time Kazmir and CC Sabathia faced each other.
Kazmir is now 4-2 with a 1.43 ERA against the Yankees at the Trop. He is 56-4 with a 2.53 ERA in 14 career games/13 starts against the Yankees. His 2.53 ERA ranks second to A.J. Burnett in ERAs against the Yankees.
CC Sabathia faced the Rays for the 13th time in his career and had his shortest stint (5 2/3 innings) and allowed the most runs (six) against the Rays. He gave up nine hits and allowed five earned runs to the Rays for the only the second time in those 13 starts.
C.C, vs. the Yankees
Now, let’s turn the attention to the Rays’ C.C.
Carl Crawford had two hits against the Yankees on Tuesday to give him 129 for his career against the Bombers. That ties him with David Ortiz for the second most against the Yankees. Brian Roberts has the most among active players with 136.
Ben Zobrist had two hits, including his team-high fifth triple of the season. He has hit safely in 16 of his last 18 games and is batting .421 (8-for-19) as a cleanup hitter.
Evan Longoria hit his 20th home run of the season in the fourth inning, a solo shot that hooked around the left-field foul pole.
It was Longoria’s fourth home run in his last 15 games, a streak that came after an 18-game homerless stretch.
Longoria also grounded into his major league-leading 19th double play of the season in the first inning, passing St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina for that dubious honor.
Longoria has grounded into 33 percent of the Rays 58 double plays this season.
It was only the Yankees’ second loss since the All-Star Break ... The Rays have won 15 of their last 19 at the Trop ... The Rays ended a three-game losing streak, a three-game losing streak to the Yankees, and a three-game losing streak at the Trop ... Yankee reliever Mark Melancon retired seven of the eight batters he faced ... Since 2005 Kazmir (804) and Sabathia (774) ranked first and second in strikeouts among American League pitchers ... The Broadcast Auction held during Tuesday’s telecast raised more than $60,000 for the Rays Baseball Foundation.