Tagged: Brent Lillibridge

Soriano, Reynolds Homer As Yankees Rout Bosox

GAME 121

YANKEES 10, RED SOX 3

After playing most of the season with players like Brent Lillibridge, David Adams and Melky Mesa in the starting lineup it had to please manager Joe Girardi and veteran left-hander Andy Pettitte to open a series at Fenway Park with some power in the lineup.

It was that power and the pitching of Pettitte that allowed the Yankees to bludgeon the Red Sox in front of a sellout crowd of 38,143 on Friday.

Red-hot Alphonso Soriano connected for yet another home run and drove in four runs and newly acquired first baseman Mark Reynolds launched a two-run shot over the Green Monster in his first at-bat as a Yankee as New York rolled to an easy victory in an important series against Boston.

Pettitte (8-9), meanwhile, pitched into the seventh inning, giving up three runs (none earned) on six hits and a walk while striking out six batters to notch his 20th career victory against the Red Sox.

Soriano and Reynolds did most of their damage against left-hander Felix Doubront (8-6).

Soriano opened the scoring against Doubront with an RBI infield single in the first inning that scored Brett Gardner.

Reynolds launched an 0-2 fastball into the seats in left with Vernon Wells aboard and one out in the second inning to give the Yankees a 3-0 lead.

Soriano, who entered the game 10-for-14 (.714) with four home runs and 14 RBIs in his past three games, padded the lead to 6-0 when he ripped a 1-1 fastball into the Green Monster in center-field with two on and one out in the third inning.

The Yankees added a single run off Doubront in the fourth when Robinson Cano stroked a two-out RBI single to center to score Eduardo Nunez to make it 7-0.

Doubront was tagged for seven runs (six earned) on eight hits and two walks while he fanned four in four innings of work.

The Red Sox scored an unearned run off Pettitte in the bottom of the fourth after Dustin Pedroia reached second on a leadoff single off the glove off Alex Rodriguez at third and a fielding error off the resulting carom into foul territory charged to Nunez. Jonny Gomes then stroked a two-out RBI single to score Pedroia.

They Red Sox added a pair of unearned runs in the seventh after Pedroia reached on a two-base error on Nunez. David Ortiz followed with an RBI single to left that scored Pedroia but Ortiz was thrown out at second by Soriano trying to stretch the hit into a double.

Stephen Drew singled with two outs and Pettitte walked Mike Napoli. Jarrod Saltalamacchia then chased Pettitte from the game with an RBI single to center to score Drew.

The Yankees added three runs in the ninth off left-hander Drake Britton on an RBI infield single by Ichiro Suzuki, a line-drive RBI single to left by Reynolds and lined single to right off the bat of Chris Stewart.

The Yankees have now won six of their past eight games and are 63-58 on the season. The first-place Red Sox are 72-52 and have now lost six of their past eight games and their lead on the Yankees has been cut to 7 1/2 games. With the victory the Yankees also pulled to within 5 1/2 games in the wild-card standings.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Soriano, 37, is now 13-for-18 (.722) with five home runs and 18 RBIs in his past four games. He is tied with five other players, including former Yankee Tony Lazzeri, for the most RBIs over a four-game stretch.  Since being obtained on July 26 from the Chicago Cubs, Soriano is 24-for-75 (.320) with eight home runs and 26 RBIs.
  • Pettitte, 41, won his first game since a July 11th victory against the Kansas City Royals six starts ago. In his 17 previous major-league seasons Pettitte has never ended up with a losing record. With his victory on Friday he is just a game under .500 for the season.
  • Reynolds, 30, was picked up off waivers on Friday from the Cleveland Indians after he was designated for assignment last week and he paid immediate dividends in his first game, going 2-for-5 with a home run and three RBIs. Reynolds hit .215 with 15 home runs and 48 RBIs in 99 games with the Tribe. He will provide the Yankees with a much-needed right-handed power bat to platoon at first base with the lefty-swinging Lyle Overbay, 36, who is hitting only .200 against left-handers this season.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

Although the injuries and weak offensive lineups the Yankees had to play as a result dug the Yankees a huge hole from which to climb out, their is a huge ray of hope they can do it. If the pitching can hold up for the final 41 games, the Yankees might actually have a shot to make the playoffs. This was a good first step. Nothing to complain about here.

BOMBER BANTER

In order to make room on the 25-man roster for Reynolds, the Yankees surprisingly shipped right-hander Preston Claiborne to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Claiborne, 25, was 0-1 with a 2.88 ERA in 34 games with the Yankees this season.  In addition, infielder Luis Cruz was designated for assignment to make room for Reynolds on the 40-man roster.  . . .  Rodriguez denied on Friday a “60 Minutes” report that representatives of his leaked information to Major League Baseball concerning the involvement of teammate Francisco Cervelli and Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun in the Biogenesis scandal.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their vital three-game weekend series with the Red Sox on Saturday.

Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (11-7, 2.33 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Kuroda, 38, allowed only three hits over eight innings in a victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Monday.  He has not allowed more than three runs in any of his starts since June 30. He is 3-3 with a 3.72 ERA lifetime against the Angels.

Kuroda will be opposed by right-hander John Lackey (7-10, 3.32 ERA). Lackey has not won a game since July 12 and he yielded four runs on 10 hits in 6 2/3 innings in a loss to the Yankees on July 20. He is 8-10 with a 4.73 ERA in his career against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 4:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by FOX Sports.

 

Advertisements

Overbay’s RBI Single Boosts Yankees Over Dodgers

GAME 107

YANKEES 3, DODGERS 0

Facing an 0-2 count with Dodgers left-hander Paco Rodriguez on the mound, pinch-hitter Lyle Overbay knew that he had looked terrible swinging at two sliders. He also came close to swinging at a third slider for strike three but third-base umpire Bill Miller ruled he had checked his swing.

Rodriguez’s next slider was in the middle of the plate and Overbay won the game for the Yankees on Wednesday with a clutch two-out RBI single to center.

Overbay’s game-winner was all part of a three-run inning and Mariano Rivera pitched a perfect ninth for his 34th save of the season as New York paid back Los Angeles for their walk-off 3-2 victory on Tuesday in front of a sellout Dodger Stadium crowd of 53,013.

The Yankees entered the ninth inning of a scoreless game when Derek Jeter opened the frame by drawing a walk from right-hander Ronald Belisario (4-6). Robinson Cano hit into a fielder’s choice and Alfonso Soriano grounded out, leaving Cano at second with two out.

Manager Joe Girardi pinch-hit for Vernon Wells with Ichiro Suzuki and Dodgers manager Don Mattingly had Belisario walk him intentionally to bring up Brent Lillibridge.

Girardi then called upon Overbay to pinch-hit and Mattingly summoned Rodriguez to pitch to him. But Overbay’s lined single to center to plate Cano spoiled the strategy.

Overbay’s RBI also gave him three RBis in the two-game series because he had driven in both of the Yankees’ two runs on Tuesday.

The Yankees were able to tack on two unearned runs in the inning when Jayson Nix lofted a routine popup into shallow right. Though second baseman Mark Ellis was camped under the ball, right-fielder Yasiel Puig charged in to make the catch, causing Ellis to turn his head and the ball deflected off his glove to allow Suzuki and Overbay to score on the error.

The game featured a classic pitchers’ duel between Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw, who came in leading the National League in ERA at 1.96, and Yankees right-hander Hiroki Kuroda, who had toiled for the Dodgers for four seasons (2008 through 2011) before signing as a free agent with the Yankees in 2012.

Kershaw and Kuroda matched zeros through 7 1/2 innings.

Kuroda, 39, gave up five hits and a walk while he struck out eight over seven innings to record his eighth start of the season in which he had not allowed a run.

Kershaw, 25, was touched for five hits and he walked none while he fanned five over eight innings.

Kershaw was threatened only in the second and eighth innings.

In the second, Wells and Lillibridge stroked back-to-back one-out singles. But Kershaw got Nix on an infield popup and Chris Stewart grounded into a force play. In the eighth, Stewart and pinch-hitter Melky Mesa came through with a pair of two-out singles. But Kershaw ended that threat by retiring Brett Gardner on a flyout.

Kuroda only had one shaky inning  –  the seventh.

Adrian Gonzalez opened the frame with a single down the right-field line but he was thrown out trying to stretch the hit into a double on a perfect throw from Wells from right-field. One out later, Andre Ethier and A.J. Ellis notched consecutive singles.  But Kuroda fanned Skip Schumaker swinging to end the threat.

Boone Logan (3-2) pitched a scoreless eighth inning, getting out of a two-on, two-out jam by retiring Gonzalez on a flyout, to earn the victory in relief.

With the victory the Yankees improved their season record to 56-51 and they remain in fourth place in the American League East, eight games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox. The Dodgers fell to 57-49.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Kuroda was absolutely sensational in limiting the Dodgers to five hits and a walk in seven innings and he deserved a better fate.  In his past nine starts, Kuroda is 4-1 with a 1.56 ERA. He lowered his season ERA to 2.38, which is second in the American League to Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners. Kuroda also has not allowed an earned run in his past two starts covering 14 innings.
  • Overbay came off the bench to deliver a huge hit in the ninth inning for the Yankees. Though Overbay is hardly a match for the production of Mark Teixeira at first base, he still has provided the Yankees with some clutch hits this season, batting .248. with 12 home runs and 45 RBIs.  He was 2-for-5 with a home run and three RBIs and two runs scored in the two-game series with the Dodgers.
  • The bullpen, as it has so often done this season, kept the Yankees in the game long enough for the Yankees to get their offense going with Kershaw out in the game in the ninth. Logan did not bend in the eighth and Rivera was dominant in the ninth, striking out the first two betters he faced before getting A.J. Ellis on an infield roller to clinch the victory.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

Kuroda and the bullpen shut down a Dodger team that came into the game 10-1 since the All-Star break. The Yankees were facing arguably the best starter in the National League in Kershaw. So why quibble over negatives? The Yankees could have fell nine games back with a loss so this one was a big victory. Kudos!

BOMBER BANTER

Mattiingly was ejected from the game in the ninth inning by Miller. Mattingly had replaced Rodriguez with right-hander Brandon League after Ellis’ two-run error. As he was leaving the field, Mattingly talked with Miller about his failure to call out Overbay on strikes on a check swing and the discussion grew heated before Miller ejected Mattingly. Television replays indicated that Miller could have called Overbay out for a swing on the pitch.  . . .  Alex Rodriguez will play in a simulated game on Thursday and then will begin a new minor-league rehab assignment on Friday as he prepares to start his season with the Yankees despite a potential looming suspension. Rumors persist that Rodriguez might be hit with a lifetime ban from baseball if he does not agree to accept a lengthy suspension for his role in the Biogenesis drug scandal. Meanwhile, the Yankees will have Rodriguez play in the simulated game in Tampa, FL, on Thursday and he possibly could appear in a minor-league game with Double-A Trenton on Friday. Rodriguez, 38, recovering from hip surgery in January and Grade 1 left quad strain he suffered a week ago, could be activated as soon as this weekend.  . . .  Outfielder Curtis Granderson, who is rehabbing from a broken left pinkie knuckle, will be activated from the 15-day disabled list on Friday.  After playing in only seven games after recovering from a broken bone in his right wrist he suffered in his first at-bat of spring training, Granderson was sidelined on May 24 when he struck by a pitch from Tampa Bay Rays left-hander Cesar Ramos.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have Thursday off before opening a three-game weekend road series with the San Diego Padres.

Left-hander CC Sabathia (9-9, 4.65 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Sabathia is 0-2 with a 10.93 ERA in his past three starts against the Minnesota Twins, Red Sox and Rays. Sabathia is 3-0 with a 2.12 ERA in his career against the Padres.

The Padres will counter with right-hander Andrew Cashner (7-5, 3.88 ERA). Cashner yielded three runs on four hits and and five walks while striking out five in six innings in a victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks. Cashner has never faced the Yankees.

Game-time will be 10:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

 

Red-Hot Kuroda Cools Off Rangers With Shutout

GAME 102

YANKEES 2, RANGERS 0

It was hard to figure out on Thursday which was hotter, the steamy weather in Texas or red-hot right-hander Hiroki Kuroda. Judging by the results the answer was clearly Kuroda.

It was as if the 38-year-old veteran doused the Rangers bats with some ice-cold water as he shut them out over seven innings for his third straight victory over his past three starts and New York got just enough offense to gain a split with Texas in their four-game series in front of 35,139 fans at Rangers Ballpark.

Kuroda (10-6) held the Rangers to six hits and a walk while he struck out three as he threw 100 pitches (61 for strikes) on a sun-splashed afternoon in plus 90-degree weather.

David Robertson pitched a perfect eighth and Mariano Rivera, on a day he was honored by the Rangers in his last visit to Arlington, TX, tossed a scoreless ninth to earn his 33rd save in 35 opportunities this season.

Kuroda was locked in a pitchers’ duel with Rangers left-hander Derek Holland until the top of the sixth inning, when the Yankees were able to push across a run.

Light-hitting backup catcher Austin Romine opened the sixth with a double, part of his first major-league game in which he delivered three hits. Ichiro Suzuki advanced Romine to third by laying down a sacrifice bunt and Brent Lillibridge scored Romine by slapping the first pitch into left for an RBI double.

The Yankees added a run in the eighth when Robinson Cano laced a one-out double that chased Holland.

Vernon Wells greeted right-hander Tanner Scheppers with a single that advanced Cano to third and Eduardo Nunez scored Cano when he beat out a potential double-play ball.

Holland (8-6) was charged with two runs on eight hits and one walk while he fanned two batters in 7 1/3 innings.

Holland threw a complete-game shutout against the Yankees on June 27 at Yankee Stadium for his only career victory against them. After taking the loss on Thursday, Holland is now 1-6 against the Yankees.

With the victory the Yankees improved their season ledger to 54-48. They are in fourth place in the American League East and they trail the first-place Boston Red Sox by 6 1/2 games. The Rangers fell to 56-46.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Kuroda is on a real hot streak on the mound. In his past four starts, Kuroda is 3-0, giving up only two earned runs on 20 hits and five walks while striking out 16 in 26 innings. That is an ERA of 0.69 and a WHIP of 0.96. Pitching for a team that does not support him with a lot of runs does not seem to bother him one bit. Kuroda is second in the American League to Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners in ERA with a 2.51 mark.
  • Lillibridge came through with what turned out to be his second big hit of the series against the Rangers in the sixth. He drove in the game-tying run in the ninth inning off Rangers closer Joe Nathan in Tuesday’s 5-4 victory. The 29-year-old utility man had only two hits in 11 at-bats in the three games he started in the series but he sure made them count.
  • Romine’s three-hit game is the culmination of some hard work in the batting cage to sharpen up his swing. On July 8, the rookie was hitting an anemic .132. But in his past four starts, he is 7-for-14 (.500) with four doubles, three runs scored and two RBIs. That has raised Romine’s season average to .193.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

Kuroda pitched a gem, the bullpen held the lead and the offense was opportunistic with Brett Gardner, Chris Stewart and Travis Hafner on the bench and three rookies and a journeyman third baseman in the lineup. How this team wins as much as it does is beyond words. No complaints here.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees reportedly are about “99 percent” complete on a deal that would return Chicago Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano back to the team with which he started his career. The deal likely will be announced on Friday. Soriano was in the Cubs’ starting lineup on Thursday but he was pulled from the game when Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein informed manager Dale Sveum of the impending deal. Soriano, 37, was hitting .254 with 17 home runs and 51 RBIs in 93 games with the Cubs. But Soriano has been on a home-run tear lately, hitting 10 home runs in his past 21 games with a .286 average, six doubles and 21 RBIs. Soriano began his major-league career with the Yankees in 1999 after his contract was purchased from a Japanese League team. He played with the Yankees through 2003 when he was traded to the Rangers for Alex Rodriguez.  . . .  Rodriguez underwent a physical examination by Dr. Dan Murphy in Tampa, FL, on Thursday that revealed the veteran third baseman had shown improvement with his strained left quad but that he will not be ready to be activated from the disabled list before Aug. 1. The Yankees said Rodriguez will remain at the team’s minor-league complex in Tampa until then. Rodriguez told reporters earlier in the day that he “was ready to play” on Friday but the Yankees disagreed with him, citing medical reports that indicate he was not quite ready to play.  . . .  Meanwhile, shortstop Derek Jeter ran the bases without any problems on Thursday at Rangers Ballpark and he hopes to be activated for Saturday’s game at Yankee Stadium against the Tampa Bay Rays. Jeter, 39, came off the disabled list on July 11 after recovering from surgery on his left ankle, but he sustained a strained right quad and had to be returned to the DL. Saturday is the earliest Jeter could be activated.

ON DECK

The Yankees open an important three-game weekend home series against division rival Tampa Bay.

The Yankees will open the series with left-hander CC Sabathia (9-8, 4.37 ERA). Sabathia got hammered for seven runs on nine hits in five innings on his 33rd birthday on Sunday in a loss to the Red Sox. He is 1-2 with a 7.29 ERA against the Rays this season and 11-11 with a 3.57 ERA in his career.

The Rays will start right-hander Jeremy Hellickson (9-3, 4.62 ERA). Hellickson held the Toronto Blue Jays to two runs on five hits for his ninth victory of the season. Hellickson is 3-1 with a 3.19 ERA in seven lifetime appearances against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. and the game will be telecast by MY9.

 

Hot Dog! Nathan Not Kosher As Yanks Rally In 9th

GAME 100

YANKEES 5, RANGERS 4

All season the Yankees have gotten very little production from their shortstops and third basemen. On Tuesday, they got some very timely production from both in the ninth inning to steal a victory from the Rangers.

Shortstop Eduardo Nunez laced a one-out RBI triple that tied the game and third baseman Brent Lillibridge followed with an RBI single off Ranger closer Joe Nathan as New York rallied for two runs in the ninth to down Texas in front of 42,739 at Ranger Ballpark.

Nathan entered the ninth with a 4-3 lead and a resume boasting 31 saves in 32 opportunities this season. But things unraveled quickly for the American League All-Star right-hander when he issued a one-out walk to Vernon Wells.

Nathan then uncorked a wild pitch as he stumbled off the pitching rubber to allow Wells to take second.

Nunez later laced a 3-2 pitch to the deepest part of the ballpark in center-field for a triple that scored Wells with the tying run. Lillibridge, who had committed a costly one-out error in the sixth inning that helped the Rangers score four runs, then slapped a 1-0 pitch into left-field that scored Nunez with what proved to be the winning run.

Joba Chamberlain (2-0) pitched a perfect eighth inning to earn the victory in relief. Nathan (1-1) was tagged with his first loss of the season.

Mariano Rivera pitched a 1-2-3 ninth, striking out two batters, to earn his 32nd save in 34 chances this season.

The Yankees actually held a 3-0 lead and Phil Hughes had limited the Rangers to only two hits through the first 5 1/3 innings until Lillibridge’s error on a ball off the bat of Nelson Cruz opened the floodgates.

Adrian Beltre followed with an RBI double to left-center and, one out later, Elvis Andrus chased Hughes from the game with a lined opposite-field single to right.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi summoned left-hander Boone Logan form the bullpen and Mitch Moreland greeted him with a two-run home run to center that gave the Rangers a 4-3 lead.

Hughes gave up three runs (none of them earned) on four hits and three walks while he struck out one in 5 2/3 innings.

The Yankees built their 3-0 lead off right-hander Alexi Ogando, who was activated from the 15-day disabled list earlier in the day to make the start.

A pair of rookies got the Yankees on the board in the third. Melky Mesa, making his first start of the season, doubled off the wall in center in his first at-bat of the season. Austin Romine, who entered the game hitting an anemic .158, then slapped an opposite-field double down the right-field line to score Mesa.

Brett Gardner followed with a single to left that advanced Romine to third and Ichiro Suzuki scored Romine with a infield single that Andrus was able to glove deep in the hole at short but he had no play. It was Suzuki’s 25th infield hit of the season, which leads the American League.

The single was also Suzuki’s 2,700th major-league hit.

The Yankees added a run off Ogando in the fourth when Wells led off with a double to the corner in left and Nunez advanced him to third on a deep fly to center. Lillibridge scored Wells on a ground ball to second in which Ian Kinsler’s throw to home plate bounced, allowing Wells to slide in safely without a tag.

Ogando was touched for three runs on six hits and no walks and he fanned two batters in five innings.

By snatching victory out of the jaws of defeat the Yankees improved to 53-47. More importantly, they remain in fourth place in the American League East, seven games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox. The Rangers fell to 55-45.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Nunez was 2-for-4 with a RBI and a run scored and hit the ball hard both times he was retired. Nunez finally is getting untracked at the plate after his average had dipped to .207 on July 19. Since then Nunez is 8-for-17 (.471) and that has raised his season average to .242.
  • Lillibridge was playing third base in place of an injured Luis Cruz and he ended up 1-for-4 with two RBIs, including the game-winner, despite his costly error. Third base has been a sore spot for the team all season but Lillibridge delivered some important runs for the Yankees on a night they desperately needed them.
  • Hughes deserved a much better fate in this game. If not for Lillibridge’s error and Logan picking a bad night to stink, Hughes should have won the game. He is 4-9 but he is one of the worst run-supported starters in the majors this season.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • This was one night that two of the Yankees’ better hitters, Robinson Cano and Lyle Overbay, did not deliver anything. The pair, batting third and fourth, were a combined 0-for-8 with two strikeouts and they stranded three runners.
  • Girardi looks to have pulled the trigger on Hughes a bit too early and it cost him. Hughes left the game having thrown only 80 pitches. Girardi told reporters after the game that Hughes was getting his pitches up in that inning. But Logan served up the two-run homer to Moreland. I blame Girardi more than I blame Logan because Hughes needed just one out to get out of the inning. Let him pitch, Joe!

BOMBER BANTER

Cruz was sporting a heavy leg brace on his left knee in what appears to be a sprained medial collateral ligament that will likely land him on the 15-day disabled list on Wednesday. Cruz injured the knee making a diving grab of  a Moreland popup to shallow left in the third inning of Monday’s game. Cruz’s spike caught in the turf and he landed awkwardly on the knee. He remained in the game but was unavailable to play on Tuesday. If Cruz ends up on the disabled list he will become the 17th player on the team to be disabled covering 21 separate stints.  . . .  Derek Jeter took batting practice, fielded ground balls and ran sprints on Wednesday as part of his recovery from a Grade 1 strain of his right quad that he sustained on his first game of the season on July 11. Jeter said he felt no pain and he hopes to be able to be activated on Saturday, the first day he is eligible to come of the DL.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their four-game series with the Rangers on Wednesday.

Left-hander Andy Pettitte (7-7, 4.47 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Pettitte yielded four runs on six hits and a walk with for strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings of a loss to the Red Sox last Friday. In the past 10 seasons, Pettitte is 6-7 with a 4.53 ERA against Texas.

The Rangers will counter with right-hander Matt Garza, who will be making his debut with the Rangers after being acquired in a trade with the Chicago Cubs on Monday. In his career, Garza is 1-4 with a 4.48 ERA against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 8:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

 

Rookie Almonte’s Debut Helps Yanks Deflect Rays

GAME 73

YANKEES 6, RAYS 2

For years the Yankees have stockpiled minor-league talent simply so they could trade them away for well-traveled veterans. This season, out of necessity, they are having to let some of those youngsters play. One of them helped spark the Yankees to victory on Friday in his first major-league start.

Zoilo Almonte was 3-for-4 including his first major-league home run as New York got 5 2/3 innings of solid pitching from David Phelps and downed Tampa Bay in front of a paid crowd of 41,123 at Yankee Stadium.

Almonte, 24, was part of what was an offense that emphasized “small ball” against sinkerball right-hander Roberto Hernandez (4-8).

Brett Gardner opened the first inning with a bunt single and Ichiro Suzuki followed with a hit-and-run single to right that advanced Gardner to third. Robinson Cano then gave the Yankees an early lead with a sacrifice fly to center to plate Gardner.

The Rays tied it in the top of the third on a two-out single off the bat of Ben Zobrist that Cano nearly fielded to retire the side. Instead, the ball caromed off the tip of Cano’s glove and Yunel Escobar scored from third.

The Yankees reclaimed the lead in the bottom of the inning when Austin Romine led off the frame with a double and he was advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by Gardner. Suzuki followed with a slow roller to the Hernandez down the first-base line that allowed Romine to score.

The Rays tied it back up in the fourth on a one-out single by Luke Scott that slid under Cano’s glove in right-center and James Loney scored from second after Phelps had uncorked a wild pitch.

But the Yankees took the lead in the fourth for good by loading the bases with no outs against Hernandez. Travis Hafner, Lyle Overbay and Almonte hit a succession of ground-ball singles that found holes in the infield.

Jayson Nix then hit into a double play that scored Hafner and advanced Overbay to third. David Adams followed with a slow roller to Evan Longoria at third and Longoria’s throw got past Loney at first base in what was scored as an infield single, which allowed Overbay to score.

Almonte then extended the Yankees’ lead to 5-2 in the sixth by launching a towering shot that landed in the Yankees’ bullpen in right-center. The fans rose to their feet and implored Almonte to take a ceremonial curtain call, which he did to the delight of the crowd.

Meanwhile, the Yankees bullpen quartet of Boone Logan, Shawn Kelly, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera held the Rays to to just one hit and struck out four over the final 3 1/3 innings to preserve the victory for Phelps.

Phelps gave up two runs on eight hits and one walk while he struck out four in 5 2/3 innings.

Hernandez yielded five runs on nine hits and no walks while he fanned four. He is career record in 13 games against the Yankees is now 1-7.

With the victory the Yankees improved their season record to 40-33 and they remain 3 1/2 games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in third place in the American League East. The Rays dropped to 38-36 and they are now six behind the Red Sox in fourth place.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • In only three games, Almonte is quickly winning over Yankee fans. He is now 4-for-6 (.667) with a home run and an RBI. Almonte hit a low-inside fastball and used a quick uppercut stroke to launch it over the wall. Almonte is a very impressive young switch-hitting outfielder who was hitting .297 with six home runs and 36 RBIs in 68 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He was called up to replace Mark Teixeira on the roster and, by the looks of things, he may be staying for some time.
  • Overbay was 2-for-4 with a run scored and he closed out the Yankees’ scoring with a two-out RBI single in the eighth off reliever Cesar Ramos. Cano set up the score with a one-out single and he stole second and scored easily on Overbay’s hit. The veteran first baseman now has 33 RBIs, which is tied for second on the club with Hafner.
  • Phelps, 26, might not have had dominant stuff and he may have been in trouble in just about every inning. But he did manage to limit the damage to two ground balls that barely eluded Cano. Phelps has more than held his own as the fifth starter since he replaced Ivan Nova in May. There seems to be no reason to take him out the rotation either.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Nix had a game he would just as soon forget. He was the only Yankee starter to fail to get a hit and to reach base. Nix was 0-for-3 and hit into two double plays. Nix is 0-for-6 in his past two games after he was 15-for-49 (.306) in his previous 13 games. Nix also fouled two pitches off himself in his second at-bat. It just was a bad day at the office for him.

BOMBER BANTER

Nova, 26, will be recalled from Scranton in order to make a spot start on Sunday against the Rays. Nova was scratched from a scheduled start with the RailRiders on Friday and he will pitch for the Yankees because both Phil Hughes and Hiroki Kuroda would have had only three days rest from their starts in a doubleheader with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday. Nova is 2-0 with a 2.04 ERA in three starts with Scranton. He was 2-1 with a 5.12 ERA before he landed on the 15-day disabled list with a strain in his right triceps.  . . .  The Yankees on Friday recalled infielder Alberto Gonzalez from Scranton and designated Reid Brignac for assignment. The Yankees were disappointed with Brignac’s lack of production with the bat. He was 5-for-44 (.114) in 17 games with the Yankees. Gonzalez was hitting .224 with eight RBIs in 23 games for the RailRiders.  . . .  The Yankees also shored up its roster on Friday by trading for Brent Lillibridge of the Chicago Cubs in exchange either for a player to be named later or cash considerations. Lillibridge, 29, is a career .207 hitter who was 1-for-24 in eight games with the Cubs earlier this season. Lillibridge has played second base and third base this season with the Cubs but he has played every position in the major leagues except catcher. He was hitting .281 in 48 games with Triple-A Iowa.

NOTE: Because of blackout restrictions where I live I am relegated to having to watch the Yankees on the Rays on their SunSports network. Their post-game show featured former major-league first baseman Orestes Destrade bemoaning the bad luck for Hernandez because of the Yankees’ series of ground-ball hits that helped them win the game. There is nothing like partisan pity parties after a game. But if Destrade had been accurately reporting things he would have told the viewers that the Rays scored their two runs off Phelps on ground balls that just eluded Cano at second base. Two can play that game, Orestes.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their four-game weekend series with the Rays on Saturday.

Left-hander CC Sabathia (7-5, 3.93 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Sabathia gave up just two runs in eight innings in a victory against the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday. Sabathia is 10-11 with a 3.48 ERA lifetime against the Rays.

Sabathia will be opposed by rookie right-hander Alex Colume (1-0, 0.00 ERA). Colume allowed just one run in 5 2/3 innings in a victory over the Miami Marlins on May 30. Colume was 4-6 with a 3.07 ERA at Triple-A Durham.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.