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TB@NYY: Nunez sends a game-tying homer to left

NEW YORK -- The out that punched the Yankees' 16th ticket to the postseason in 17 years was secured safely in Curtis Granderson's glove, and the team reacted as though the game was like any other.

There were handshakes and little more from the Yankees after defeating the Rays, 4-2, in Game 1 of a day-night doubleheader on Wednesday, preferring to save their celebrations for loftier checkpoints.

"We're happy to be in the playoffs, but people aren't running around here jumping up and down because we clinched a postseason berth," said Yankees captain Derek Jeter. "Our goal is to win the division, and we have not done that."

Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher said the players didn't acknowledge the clinching even in their reserved discussion on the Yankee Stadium mound, instead looking a few hours ahead to prepare for the nightcap against Tampa Bay.

"It's crazy," Swisher said. "I'm sure a lot of other teams would love to be doing that, but we feel we have a great team and we can do a lot of special things. At least we know we're in. That's step one."

Eduardo Nunez and Robinson Cano contributed big hits to spark a three-run eighth inning, dealing a serious blow to Tampa Bay's dimming hopes of continuing past the regular season.

With the Rays clinging to a one-run lead, Nunez slugged a solo homer, his fifth, off James Shields to tie the game.

"I'm so excited to hit a home run in this moment," Nunez said. "I'm just waiting for a good pitch, and [I] hit the ball hard."

Shields permitted a single to Brett Gardner and walked Jeter before Cano greeted reliever J.P. Howell with a booming two-run double to center field, one that still had Cano downplaying the significance of this win.

"You want the home-field advantage, so you want to keep winning until you can have it for sure," Cano said. "You don't celebrate until you get it."

Mariano Rivera pitched a scoreless ninth to clinch the playoff berth, securing at least the AL Wild Card while adding to his all-time saves record with No. 603.

Thinking back to this spring, when the Red Sox seemed to be the fancy of the Hot Stove League and the Yankees were being billed as likely also-rans, Rivera took a measure of pride in the charge to the head of the pack.

"It's tremendous to me and for the team," Rivera said. "It's a tremendous accomplishment, because nobody gave us opportunities. Nobody gave us a shot when we were in Spring Training. Here we are."

Nunez's homer erased a deficit created by Desmond Jennings' two-run shot off Hector Noesi in the third inning.

Noesi was a late fill-in for scheduled pitcher Phil Hughes, who continues to deal with the after-effects of back spasms that popped up during a bullpen session in Toronto on Friday. Hughes was sent for a MRI examination during the game.

Emptying 55 pitches in the spot start, Noesi was removed two batters after Jennings' homer, but the Yankees' bullpen more than did its part to keep New York in the game.

Seven relievers combined for 6 1/3 scoreless innings, including lefty Raul Valdes -- whom manager Joe Girardi said he was impressed by -- and eventual winning pitcher Luis Ayala, who logged two outs in the eighth inning.

"When you're facing a starter that doesn't give up too many runs like Shields, you have to pitch," Jeter said. "We were able to do that."

The Yankees claimed their first lead on Alex Rodriguez's two-out double, scoring Jeter in the first inning. But Shields responded by striking out Swisher to end the frame, the first of his seven strikeouts on the day.

With Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Russell Martin all resting from the starting lineup, Shields gave up just two hits between Rodriguez's double and Nunez's homer.

He finished the day after 7 1/3 innings, in which he allowed four runs on six hits and two walks.

"I'm extremely disappointed," said Shields, who took his 12th loss of the season. "A 2-1 ballgame, I have to do a better job in the eighth inning right there. That's my game right there."

Tampa Bay's loss pushed the Rays 2 1/2 games behind Boston for the AL Wild Card, with eight games to play.

The Yankees could spray some bubbly in their home clubhouse later on Wednesday by sweeping the doubleheader behind ace CC Sabathia and seeing the Red Sox lose to the Orioles at Fenway Park.

"We congratulated each other a little bit, but CC's going tonight," Girardi said. "We want to get his 20th win for him. We're still pedal to the metal."

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