Yankees power up, pound Rays
Four homers give Bombers firm grasp on first place
NEW YORK -- You wouldn't say that the Yankees were particularly adept in hitting the ball where the Rays weren't on Monday, not with only six hits to show for the night's work. But they made sure to deposit a few where they couldn't be caught.
Johnny Damon slugged a go-ahead home run in the sixth inning, one of four New York round-trippers, and the Yankees completed a successful homestand with a 5-3 victory over the Rays.
Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher and Derek Jeter also pelted the right-field porch in support of winning pitcher Andy Pettitte, as the Yankees ended a rain-shortened six-game stay that included a pair of series wins over the Rangers and Tampa Bay.
"This team hasn't been textbook all year," Damon said. "As long as we get the hits and they fly out of the ballpark, it's a good thing. Putting runs on the board is always good."
Tampa Bay starter Andy Sonnanstine served up all four of the homers, with Damon's shot putting New York up by a run through six innings of play.
Teixeira crushed one into the second deck in the first inning and Swisher added a two-run shot in the second before Jeter added breathing room in the eighth on Sonnanstine's final pitch, helping the Yankees improve to 4-4 against the Rays this season.
"It feels very good to beat them," manager Joe Girardi said. "They're very talented. They're the team that represented the American League last season, so any time you can put a little distance between the teams, it's important."
Swisher homered for the second consecutive game, and six of his nine hits this month have gone for extra bases. He has four multihit games in his last seven contests.
"Whatever's going on for me right now, I just want to keep it going," Swisher said. "I feel good, I feel confident. It's been great, and I think that just has a lot to do with the team in general. When one guy cools off, it seems like another guy heats up. I think it might be my turn to be heating up."
Yankee Stadium has now seen 105 home runs hit in its first 29 games after only 160 were hit across the street all of last season. And much to the Yankees' delight, only one of the five on Monday was allowed by a pitcher wearing pinstripes.
"Balls definitely are being hit out of here, but our guys are hitting more," Pettitte said. "You know you may give up a few home runs, but I think it's going to be great for our team, with the power arms we have in this rotation."
Despite a stiff back that appeared to affect Pettitte on a third-inning play covering first base, the veteran left-hander improved to 6-2 after striking out a season-high seven batters, allowing three runs through six frames.
"My last four [starts], I feel like it's been a real battle," Pettitte said. "I'll get it back in sync. I couldn't have felt any better tonight. Tonight was probably as good as I've felt in the bullpen and starting the game in a long, long time. That was encouraging for me."
All of Tampa Bay's damage came in the fourth. Michel Hernandez stroked a single to score Ben Zobrist, who had reached on an Alex Rodriguez error, and Gabe Kapler followed by launching a two-run homer.
"This is a pretty patient club, and they made [Pettitte] work right away," Girardi said. "It seemed like every inning, they made him work. He was over 50 pitches after the first three innings. They put some good at-bats on him, and he did a nice job limiting the damage."
Pettitte scattered five hits while walking three, and he hit a batter and threw a wild pitch before Phil Hughes came on in the seventh, making his first relief appearance since the 2007 American League Division Series.
He was outstanding that night, hurling 3 2/3 innings of winning ball in relief of Roger Clemens' final appearance on a big league mound. Though the situation wasn't as high profile on Monday, the Yankees found plenty to like.
Having topped out most of this season between 92 mph and 93 mph, Hughes lit up the radar gun as high as 95 in a perfect seventh inning in which he recorded one strikeout.
"Any time you go in there, you want to do well and have some shut-down innings," Hughes said. "Especially in a game like this, where we need to take the series. With a one-run lead, it's nice."
That allowed Hughes to turn over the relief duties to lefty Phil Coke, who pitched around a walk in the eighth -- "That was about as impressive as I've seen him," Pettitte said of Coke -- before Mariano Rivera converted his 14th save of the season and the 496th of his Major League career.
The 4-2 homestand permits the Yankees to leave town to renew acquaintances with the Red Sox -- whom they haven't played since May 5 -- with a little bit of strut. New York was a game below .500 and 5 1/2 out when it last saw its rival, but now holds a one-game lead in the AL East over Boston heading to Fenway.
"We have a special team, definitely, we do," Rivera said. "But we have to continue playing hard."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.