ST. PETERSBURG -- For years, the Yankees have held a reputation as one of the best teams at making a pitcher work.
On Monday night, that approach helped them rattle Alex Torres during his Major League debut en route to notching a series-opening 5-4 win over the Rays.
Recalled for action because of the 16-inning Sunday night game the Rays lost to the Red Sox and optioned back to Triple-A after the game, Torres stepped into a critical juncture of the game against a team that was going to make him throw strikes to beat it.
Torres issued a two-out walk to Andruw Jones to load the bases, then walked Russell Martin to give the Yankees the lead and an eventual victory on a night they couldn't muster much against rookie starter Alex Cobb.
"They've been doing it for so long that when they do chase pitches, that's when you're kind of surprised," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "And they did a real good job of being patient."
A.J. Burnett was erratic and the offense only contributed eight singles, but the Yankees were resourceful, getting the effective Cobb's pitch count up to force Rays manager Joe Maddon to go to a shorthanded bullpen by the seventh.
That helped the Yankees tie the game at 4 with two runs in the eighth, and it led to a tension-filled top of the ninth that Torres was hardly able to handle.
With Curtis Granderson on third and two outs, Torres intentionally walked Nick Swisher to pitch to Jones, but then walked Jones to load the bases. Martin capped a seven-pitch at-bat with a walk of his own to give the Yankees their second lead and cap a late comeback.
"They do not expand their strike zones," said Maddon. "On that team right there, maybe just a couple of guys you might have a chance to get them to swing at something outside the strike zone. That group makes you throw the ball over the plate."
Torres' full-count pitch to Martin -- a slider that stayed up in the zone -- looked especially tough to take. The Yankees' catcher flinched his hands, but held his bat, took his base and set it up for Mariano Rivera to notch his 24th save in the bottom half.
"Obviously 3-2, you're ready to swing because he's trying to throw a strike and he's not trying to walk you," Martin said. "But I just recognized it early and didn't swing."
The ninth-inning rally wasn't possible without Brett Gardner, who has stolen a career-high 13 consecutive bases and is 11-for-19 with six runs scored in five second-half games.
Trailing by two with the bases loaded and one out in the eighth, Gardner made it a one-run game with an RBI single off Kyle Farnsworth, then allowed the Yankees to tie it by breaking up a potential inning-ending double play with a hard slide.
"[Eduardo Nunez] gets down the line pretty well, so I'm not sure if they would've turned the double play if I wouldn't have been there," Gardner said. "But you have to do what you can to try to get that run across."
Burnett couldn't get much across the plate early. And when he did, the Rays hit him hard.
Coming off the longest game in their history -- a five-hour, 44-minute marathon that resulted in a 1-0 loss to the Red Sox -- the Rays jumped on Burnett with four runs in the first two innings to build an early cushion.
Burnett was frustrated by his lacking of fastball command. He scattered eight hits and threw just 59 of his 110 pitches for strikes, and his six walks added to his Major League-leading 58 on the year.
But he limited the damage -- perhaps thanks to a little lightning.
With two outs in the top of the fifth, a lightning bolt struck a line from a nearby substation, causing a row of lights on the first-base side of Tropicana Field to shut off. Because it was a big spot in the game -- first and second, two outs with Robinson Cano up -- Girardi opted to wait out the 18-minute delay to make sure his team had full visibility.
During that time, Burnett flung about 20 balls against a net in the bowels of The Trop. He felt that allowed him to refocus and eventually keep the Yankees in the game.
"Maybe that should happen more often," he said. "... Maybe I needed a break, I needed some time."
Cobb, meanwhile, kept the Yankees in check with a nasty splitter. The 23-year-old right-hander gave up two runs, but the Yankees only had two hits against him in the first five frames and didn't really hit a ball hard until Nick Swisher's single in the sixth.
Cobb exited with 99 pitches through six innings. And because Maddon had to search deep into his bullpen for arms late in the game, the Yankees remained 1 1/2 games back of the Red Sox in the American League East and moved to 6 1/2 up on the third-place Rays.
"It's a big win, especially when you come back late like that," Martin said. "They had our number the whole night and we were just able to rally late. Everyone played their part."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.