Hughes, Yankees Catch Rays With Their Shields  Down

GAME 151
YANKEES 8, RAYS 3

The Tampa Bay Rays’ nickname for starting pitcher James Shields is “Big Game.” It refers to their perception that he seems to step up in the crucial contests and pitch well.
Well, on Tuesday night the New York Yankees turned “Big Game” Shields into “The Hunted” and put up five runs on the right-hander in the first inning. From there Yankees starter Phil Hughes and the New Yorkers cruised to another victory over the Rays.
Hughes (17-8) entered the game as the top run-supported pitcher in baseball at 7.72 runs per game and the Yankees made sure he had plenty of runs to work with to vanquish Tampa Bay. They forced Shields (13-13) to pitch to nine batters and throw 42 pitches in scoring five runs before the some fans had even bought their first hotdog. 
Nick Swisher ignited the onslaught with a solo home run to right-center, his 27th home run of the season. 
A walk to Teixeira and an Alex Rodriguez single set up Jorge Posada’s two-out RBI single to center to score Teixeira. Lance Berkman followed with a line-drive double to center-field to score Rodriguez and Posada.
Last night’s hero with five RBIs, Curtis Granderson, kept his hot streak going with a single to center to plate Berkman and Shields was only left to ponder a more fitting nickname of “Big Deficit”
Hughes was nicked by a solo home run by Matt Joyce in the second inning, a two-out RBI single by Evan Longoria in the third and a two-out RBI single by Carl Crawford in the seventh, which came off Javier Vazquez after Hughes left the game with Jason Bartlett on second.
But, otherwise Hughes managed to keep the Rays from doing any big damage to get back into the game. Hughes gave up three runs on only four hits but he did walk five and fanned six over 6 1/3 innings.
But the Rays mostly did damage to themselves by stranding 10 base-runners in the game. They loaded the bases with two out in the fourth inning and Ben Zobrist grounded out to Teixeira at first to end the threat.
They also loaded the bases on Vazquez and Joba Chamberlain with one out in the eighth inning and the tying run at the plate. However, Chamberlain struck out pinch-hitter Brad Hawpe swinging on a 3-2 slider and John Jaso lined out to Granderson in center.
Chamberlain earned his third save of the season in a night where the offense allowed manager Joe Girardi to rest both Kerry Wood and Mariano Rivera.
The big blow in the game for the Yankees actually came with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning with Teixeira on third and Rodriguez at first. Rays manager Joe Maddon, who double-checked this time to make sure he was warming up, brought in side-winding lefty Randy Choate to face Robinson Cano.
Choate made Cano look silly on a swing at a slider that ran a foot out of the strike zone and he was up in the count 1-2. However, Cano somehow connected with another slider and looped it into left-field.
Crawford only had one play to make and dove for the ball headlong but it dropped and rolled past him. Teixeira scored easily and Rodriguez scored all the way from first to put the game away.
Drek Jeter added a run in the eighth by following a two-out double by Brett Gardner with a double of his own to score Gardner.
The victory is important to the Yankees for many reasons. Most important, the Yankees assured that the Rays will leave Yankee Stadium on Thursday night without the lead in the American League East. 
With the loss by the Boston Red Sox to Baltimore on Tuesday, the Yankees also reduced their postseason Magic Number to just three.
The Yankees also have a shot to sweep the series, which would mean by virtue of winning the season series with the Rays, the Yankees would win the division title if both teams end up tied after 162 games.
That would give the Yankees home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
They also pushed their major-league-best record to 92-59 and they lead the Rays by a more comfortable 2 1/2 games. 
It any event, it left “Big Game” Shields to ponder his even bigger disappointment.
PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Hughes was not as sharp as he was last week at Tropicana Field because he had no command of his curve. But he dusted off his change-up and the Rays helped him out by making outs with runners on base. By battling into the seventh inning, Hughes earned his 17th victory.
  • It was nice to see Berkman get into the act in the first inning with his two-run double. Since coming off the disabled list on Sept. 1, Berkman is hitting .360.
  • Jeter extended his hitting streak to 10 games and he is 14-for-45 (.311) during that stretch. Though Jeter likely will end up with the worst batting average of his career, it is good to see he is rounding back into form before the playoffs begin.
  • The Rays have no clue when it comes to getting Cano out. For the season, Cano is hitting .393 against them with four home runs and 14 RBIs. Using lefties against him does not seem to help much. He is hitting .383 against Rays left-handers. His two RBIs give him 104 on the season, which is second on the team to Rodriguez, who has 112.
NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Vazquez was pressed into relief duty due to the unavailability of David Robertson, Wood and Rivera. He had not pitched since Sept. 10 and it showed. He faced only six batters and he gave up three hits. There is a remote possibility that Vazquez might not even make the playoff roster.
  • Teixeira was 0-for-3, which continues his slide since he broke his right little toe on Aug. 31. However, to be fair to Tex, he did draw a walk and reach on fielder’ choice and score two runs. He also narrowly missed a home run to right-field off Shields.
  • Rodriguez was 2-for-4 and scored two runs but his pitch selection on the night was not so good. Rodriguez swung at four pitches from Shields that were at his ankles. I know it is good to be aggressive but taking a Vladimir Guerrero approach is not going to work for A-Rod. Rodriguez is more effective when he is more selective and works the count in his favor.
MORE ON THE BUFFOON

Kevin “The Buffoon” Kennedy was back at it again on Tuesday night. First, of all, he will not let go of Jeter’s acting job to reach first base on a hit by pitch last week in St. Petersburg. He has brought it up Rays telecast the past two nights.
Tonight, he was back at it again because he claimed Jorge Posada faked getting hit by a Shields pitch in the third inning. I watched the replay several times and I could not tell either way. In that case, I defer to the umpire’s judgment.
Not Kennedy.
He cries like the same saddled-shoe wearing, pom-pom waving Rays’ fan he always is in the booth. Fortunately, the Yankees did not score that inning. That makes Posada’s so-called “acting” a moot point to me.
Not Kennedy.
He wants replay and challenges to be used in baseball. Of course, the first time it is used to cost the Rays a victory he likely will do an about-face on the subject or say the camera angle was not conclusive, etc.
He is always a through-and-through homer and the having to listen to his mindless drivel for two nights has literally made me want to vomit. 
I only have one thing to say to him: Kevin, the Rays won the game last week so the Jeter play did not hurt your team. Move on. Get a life. There is still so many umpire strike zones to bitch about and you can cry about so many other more important things for those poor little Rays from Cowtown, USA.
ON DECK

Yankee fans were very worried about the Yankees as they began their four-game series with the Rays. Now they feel better after two wins by a combined score of 16-9. They go for the series clincher on Wednesday.
On the mound will be right-hander A.J. Burnett (10-13, 5.08 ERA). Burnett held the Orioles to three runs on six hits in seven innings on Friday, but he ended up with a no-decision. Burnett has actually pitched better than his September ERA of 4.50 may indicate. He is 12-6 with a 3.16 ERA lifetime against the Rays.
The Rays will counter with right-hander Wade Davis (12-9, 4.19 ERA). Davis yielded two earned runs on six hits in seven innings against the Angels on Friday. But he was saddled with a no-decision. He is 2-1 with a 3.86 ERA against the Yankees this season.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by ESPN and locally by the YES Network.
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