NEW YORK — Rays manager Joe Maddon was looking for inspiration in sorting out his lineup when he walked into St. Patrick's Cathedral late Wednesday morning, lighting a candle for what he called "general purposes" and taking special notice of St. Jude — the patron saint of hopeless causes and desperate cases.
"I've always been a fan," Maddon said. "I'm very much aware. Being raised Catholic you always knew what the saints were patron saints of, and the nuns really made sure that you knew that. It applies in some way. There's some method there."
Maddon got the guidance he was seeking, the reconfigured lineup working just fine, as the Rays beat the officially playoff-eliminated Yankees 8-3.
Evan Longoria hit his 30th and 31st home runs, David Price pitched seven solid innings and Joel Peralta navigated the game's most tense moment as the Yankees closed within four with the bases loaded in the eighth.
The result was a sixth straight win that kept the Rays (89-69) atop the American League wild-card race and reduced their magic number for clinching a playoff spot to three.
"We control our own destiny," Price said, "so every one is big."
With four games to play, the Rays hold a one-game lead (and the tiebreaker) over the Indians, who beat the White Sox for the 14th straight time and now open a season-ending series at Minnesota, and are two ahead of the Rangers, who beat the Astros again and finish by hosting the Angels for four.
"We feel pretty confident as a group, but at the same time we can't let that kind of skew our view of how we need to play these next four games," Longoria said. "Every one of them is going to be just as important as the next."
Maddon was confounded by how to cobble together a lineup missing injured regulars Yunel Escobar and Desmond Jennings while maintaining some flexibility knowing the Yankees wouldn't go long with starter Phil Hughes, who lasted just two-plus innings. So he walked over to the famous Fifth Avenue cathedral, grabbing a seat in one of the back pews, looking, he said, "for some divine help."
There was some immediate gratification, as doubles by Wil Myers and James Loney gave the Rays a 1-0 lead, but Price committed the baseball sin of giving it right back. They scored two more in the third, though only two, in stringing together a double, three singles and a sac fly. But Price again failed to put up a zero, a leadoff homer by Eduardo Nunez making it 3-2 Rays.
But Longoria, who made his own pilgrimage to St. Patrick's on Tuesday, broke the game open with a three-run blast — set up by Myers hustling to beat out the back end of what could have been an inning-ending double play — in the sixth. David DeJesus followed with a homer of his own.
Longoria had hit one homer in his previous 29 games, then he hit another in the ninth, moving to within two of Carlos Peña's franchise record of 163.
"I just want to win," Longoria said. "It's not something I'm just saying. I really don't care at this point how he we do it, I just care about winning. To be able to help out today and do what I did feels a little bit better, but we've been playing good baseball.'
Price won for the first time in more than a month, allowing the two runs and six hits total in working seven innings, striking out eight and not walking any while throwing 108 pitches. "I thought things got a little crispier game-in-progress," Maddon said. His next start, assuming the Rays make it, looks to be the Oct. 2 wild-card game.
Brandon Gomes loaded the bases in the eighth, but after walking in a run, and bringing Curtis Granderson to the plate as the tying run, he got an inning-ending groundout that sealed it.
"Whatever helps," Longoria said, "I think we're all willing to do it."
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.