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NYY@TB: Swisher doubles in A-Rod to give Yanks a lead

ST. PETERSBURG -- Serving as playoff spoilers doesn't seem to be among the Yankees' strengths, as they have opened the door for a thrilling conclusion to the American League Wild Card race.

As Tampa Bay tries to pull off a comeback that would rank among the game's most memorable, the Yankees aren't fretting about their role in the situation, accepting a 5-3 loss on Tuesday at Tropicana Field.

It came in dramatic fashion: One inning after the Rays turned the third triple play in franchise history, Matt Joyce crushed a three-run homer off former teammate Rafael Soriano that proved to be the game-changer.

"We're professionals," said Martin, who hit into the sixth-inning triple play facing Jeremy Hellickson. "We go out there and try to win every game. It would have been fun to try to get to 100 [wins], and we can't do that anymore. We want to play these guys tough."

Several Yankees hung around to see the conclusion of the game between the Red Sox and Orioles in Baltimore. A yelp was heard from the players lounge as Boston recorded the final out, keeping the Wild Card chase knotted into Game No. 162.

Any September excitement is secondary to what the Yankees are really looking forward to -- the opening of the American League Division Series, set for 8:37 p.m. ET on Friday at Yankee Stadium against either the Rangers or Tigers.

"Are we excited to get to the postseason? Absolutely," manager Joe Girardi said. "Friday will be what we play for."

Joyce's clutch blast came in the seventh, erasing a one-run deficit just as the Yankees began bringing in their top relievers for playoff tuneups.

The drive into the right-field seats ensured that David Robertson and Mariano Rivera would face their final regular-season batters without leads to protect, even as a frenzied crowd of 22,820 continued to keep one eye on the Baltimore game.

"It's going to happen," Martin said. "[Soriano] made a pitch, kind of pulled it across the plate, and a good fastball hitter didn't miss it."

Momentum already on their side, the Rays' fortunes improved in the sixth, as Martin grounded into a 5-4-3 triple play to end a bases-loaded threat, the first Tampa Bay triple play since Sept. 2, 2006, vs. Seattle.

New York had taken a 3-2 lead on Nick Swisher's run-scoring double, and Hellickson intentionally walked Jorge Posada before Martin offered at the first pitch, ripping a grounder to Evan Longoria at third base.

"I just hit it in the wrong spot," Martin said. "It was really a good pitch to hit, it was changeup-middle, and I got out in front and rolled it over."

Longoria stepped on third base to force out Swisher, then fired to Ben Zobrist at second base, cutting down Posada before he threw to Sean Rodriguez at first base, where Martin was banged out on a headfirst slide.

"I was trying to get down the line as fast as I could," Martin said. "I'm just not fast enough."

It marked the 25th triple play that the Yankees have hit into in franchise history. Shane Spencer was the last player to do so, on May 29, 2000, against the Athletics at Yankee Stadium, where second baseman Randy Velarde turned an unassisted triple play.

"I didn't know what to do," Hellickson said. "I was real excited. It went from being a four-or five-run inning to one. That was huge for us."

New York's first two runs scored as Martin slugged a solo home run in the third inning, his 18th, and Brett Gardner scored on Curtis Granderson's fifth-inning double play.

Batting fifth for the first time since 2004, Mark Teixeira went 2-for-4, while a move to No. 3 still didn't keep Robinson Cano from being intentionally walked in front of Alex Rodriguez in the third inning.

"I don't get frustrated," Cano said. "This is not about one player, it's about the whole team. They don't pitch to me, they'll face the guy behind me."

Hellickson completed six innings, permitting three runs on six hits, walking five and striking out one. Jake McGee picked up the win with a scoreless seventh.

"I thought we had great at-bats all night long, and we hit the ball hard," Girardi said. "I thought our pitchers threw well. We had the one bad inning, but I think our guys are playing hard."

Making the final start of a surprising comeback season regardless of how the postseason shakes out, Bartolo Colon allowed a two-run homer to Zobrist in the second inning, but nothing else over 5 1/3 innings.

The Yankees are not sure what they will do with Colon now. Winless since July 30, Girardi noted that the veteran's velocity continues to diminish. That might give the team pause about using him as a reliever, let alone to start.

After making the Opening Day roster as a non-roster invitee, the 38-year-old Colon finished 8-10 with a 4.00 ERA, striking out 135 batters in 164 1/3 innings -- his most since 2005.

"He did a great job for us, especially early in the season," Martin said. "He really had control of his sinker and was pretty much untouchable for a while there. He wasn't as consistent as the year went along, but he still kept us in a lot of games."

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