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Contreras strong against Rays
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07/08/2004 10:38 PM ET 
Contreras strong against Rays
Jeter, Sheffield, Matsui pick up two RBIs each

Hideki Matsui follows through on his seventh-inning double. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
NEW YORK -- The Yankees got exactly what they needed from Jose Contreras on Thursday night: a well-pitched game.

Contreras led the Yankees to a 7-1 win over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Yankee Stadium, snapping New York's two-game losing streak. The right-hander allowed one run over 6 2/3 innings, restoring order after a week of shaky starting pitching for the Yankees.

"We needed that," said manager Joe Torre. "It was important, because we got whacked around by Detroit the last couple of days, which was discouraging for us."

The Yankees were finally able to defeat Tampa Bay starter Victor Zambrano, who was 3-0 this season against New York before Thursday.

"You try to be patient with him," said Derek Jeter, who had two RBI doubles against Zambrano. "He has good stuff. He has had a lot of success against us, but fortunately we were able to scrap for a couple of runs."

The Yankees took advantage of early control problems by Zambrano. Three of their first four batters walked before Jason Giambi hit a sacrifice fly, putting the Yankees on the scoreboard without the benefit of a hit.

New York used another walk to add to the lead in the second. Kenny Lofton took a two-out free pass, then scored on Jeter's first RBI double. Jeter entered the game just 4-for-25 lifetime against Zambrano.

"He threw a two-seamer that ran in," Jeter said. "I got jammed a little bit, but I put a good swing on it."

"We tried to pitch [Jeter] inside, but he used that patented inside-out swing," said catcher Toby Hall. "We tried to pound him inside, but he won."

Contreras looked sharp in the early innings, retiring the first seven Rays hitters and allowing just one single through three frames. But Tampa Bay finally got to him in the fourth, using a single, a walk and a wild pitch to set up Tino Martinez's RBI groundout.

Contreras walked the next two batters (one intentionally) to load the bases, and things looked bleak for the right-hander. Contreras has been known to fall apart when trouble hits, but this time, he got Hall to fly out to left to leave all three runners stranded.

"It was a boost because they only scored one run," Contreras said through an interpreter. "After that inning, I was able to regroup, gather myself, and take my time."

Credit that to pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre, who calmed down his starter after the shaky inning.

"He was thinking too much," Stottlemyre said. "I told him, 'This isn't the seventh game of the World Series.' He was taking too much time in-between pitches, losing the rhythm he had earlier. He did a great job after that."

   Derek Jeter  /   SS
Born: 06/26/74
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 195 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R

Jeter answered back in the bottom of the inning, giving the Yankees a 3-1 lead with his second RBI double of the game. Jeter went 2-for-5 with two RBIs, lifting his average to .276.

"Jeter had a couple of big hits, which isn't easy," Torre said. "Zambrano has had his way with us."

Contreras worked 1-2-3 innings in the fifth and sixth, then retired the first two batters in the seventh. After a single by Hall and an error by Alex Rodriguez, the Rays had the tying runs on base, prompting Joe Torre to pull Contreras for Paul Quantrill. Carl Crawford loaded the bases with an infield single, but Quantrill got Rocco Baldelli to ground out and end the threat.

Contreras (6-3) was charged with one run on three hits and three walks in 6 1/3 innings, striking out three. The win was just his second in four starts, but he but he improved to 5-1 in his last eight outings.

"I didn't give any thought to what has been going on the past week," Contreras said. "I simply prepared myself to pitch my game and try and bring my team [a] victory."

"He had only one inning where he slowed it down, but once he had it under his belt, he was a lot more aggressive," Torre said. "He may have been bending, but he held it together and threw strikes. He got the outs."

Hideki Matsui, who was elected to the American League All-Star team on Wednesday night through the Ameriquest 2004 All-Star Final Vote Program on MLB.com, stroked a bases-loaded, two-run double in the seventh to give New York a 5-1 lead. Zambrano (9-5) was charged with all five runs on six hits and seven walks, striking out seven in 6 1/3 innings.

Tampa Bay threatened in the eighth, putting runners on the corners with one out against Quantrill. Mariano Rivera entered the game with the tying run on deck, getting Julio Lugo to ground into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.

Gary Sheffield drilled a two-run shot off Travis Harper in the eighth, his 15th of the year, giving the Yanks a 7-1 lead.

Rivera, who hadn't pitched in a week, closed out the game with a scoreless ninth, earning his 30th save of the season.

"We didn't even know he was on the team," joked Torre. "We certainly needed to get him in there tonight, and the fact that he pitched 1 2/3 innings and only threw 13 pitches is a real bonus for us."

Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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