On Boss' night, Yankees extend lead
Two Granderson homers help push Rays 1 1/2 games back
NEW YORK -- The stars of Monday night's 8-6 Yankees victory over the Rays spent much of their evening in close proximity.
Just beyond the fence in straightaway center, now affixed in perpetuity to the back wall of Monument Park, was the monument to late owner George M. Steinbrenner III, unveiled on Monday in a pregame ceremony that left a few Yankees past and present wiping moist eyes.
Positioned some 100 feet inside the wall in pinstripes for half the night was Curtis Granderson, a first-year Yankee who, although he had never gotten the chance to meet Steinbrenner in person, paid homage to "The Boss" with his finest night in pinstripes. Granderson slugged two home runs and drove in a career-high-tying five runs to propel the Yankees to a critical win that manager Joe Girardi said the late owner would have appreciated.
"You get down to business, but it was emotional," Girardi said of the opening ceremony. "Grandy had a big night. ... He's played extremely well."
The Yankees extended their lead in the American League East to 1 1/2 games on the back of Granderson, who drove in their first two and final three runs of the evening with home runs.
Granderson opened the scoring with a two-run homer into the New York bullpen off Matt Garza in the third. He added the night's biggest hit in the sixth, turning on a high fastball from Grant Balfour and launching it off the upper quarter of the right-field foul pole for a three-run shot that gave the Yankees an 8-4 lead.
The center fielder now has 11 of his 21 home runs in his last 37 games, or since hitting coach Kevin Long helped retool his swing.
"It's been one of the things that's kind of happened," Granderson said of the power surge. "The fact that I've been able to compact the swing a little bit makes myself a little quicker, and therefore I get out in front of the ball."
Granderson benefited, however, from miscommunication on behalf of the Rays. When manager Joe Maddon went out to replace Garza before Granderson's at-bat, he expected to be bringing in left-hander Randy Choate. Balfour, though, ran out of the bullpen, as it turned out Choate had not warmed up.
"I went out there and I was on the mound, and I was giving the ball to the pitcher, and it didn't look like Randy Choate," Maddon said, adding that he and pitching coach Jim Hickey simply miscommunicated somewhere along the line.
Granderson's three-run shot capped off a four-run sixth for the Yankees, matching what the Rays had accomplished in the top of the frame to tie the game.
Indeed, it was a night of comebacks, starting with the respective and respectful returns of Joe Torre and Don Mattingly, and ending with the Yankees answering Tampa Bay with Granderson's home run.
"It's always good to go ahead and get a more meaningful win when it comes down to it," said the center fielder.
For a time, the game mirrored the last matchup between starters Ivan Nova and Garza. The Yankees jumped to an early lead, and Nova cruised until the middle innings. This time, the sixth inning was Nova's downfall. Having yielded a single hit through five, he promptly loaded the bases in the sixth on a walk and two singles. A catcher's interference and double-play grounder plated two runs before Boone Logan surrendered a two-out RBI single to Dan Johnson and Chad Gaudin walked B.J. Upton to force in the tying run.
Nova allowed three runs on three hits in 5 2/3 innings.
"I'm doing something I'm not supposed to be doing, and I have to figure it out," Nova said of his disconcerting habit of allowing the big inning. "I was pitching good the first five innings, and then one inning, boom, it was gone."
Boom, it was gone -- a feeling Granderson made sure the Rays grew familiar with.
The Yankees have now paid tribute to Steinbrenner on two occasions this season, with the unveiling of the monument coming a little more two months after a pregame ceremony in the first home game following Steinbrenner's passing. Both times, the Yankees subsequently defeated the Rays.
"We should do ceremonies like that every day," said Nick Swisher, who went 2-for-2 with an RBI. "We're 2-0 for him."
Tim Britton is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.