ST. PETERSBURG — Friday was about greetings and salutations.
New Rays outfielder David DeJesus received a warm welcome, before and especially after the game. Suspended-but-appealing Alex Rodriguez was booed loudly at every occasion by a lively Tropicana Field crowd. Retiring Yankees legend Mariano Rivera was given another official goodbye, a sand sculpture built in his honor.
But with the Yankees coming in on a hot streak that put them back in playoff contention, the most important message came from the Rays, who moved back into a first-place tie in the AL East.
In essence: not so fast.
The Rays delivered a 7-2 win, hitting a season-high-matching four home runs and getting another solid start from rookie Chris Archer, who beat the Yankees for the third time this season.
"This was a big game for us," rightfielder Matt Joyce said. "It's coming down to the wire, and this last final stretch of games against the teams in our division is huge. Everybody knows that. Everybody is excited to play these games and excited to see how things shake out down the stretch."
The Rays seem well-positioned, winning for the seventh time in their past nine games, improving to 73-53, percentage points ahead of the Red Sox, who lost 2-0 to the Dodgers, in the division, and knocking the Yankees six back.
Rays manager Joe Maddon said he noticed a nice vibe in the dugout, whether residuals from the acquisition of DeJesus or otherwise, but a welcome sign for a team that had won only once coming off 11 previous off days. But with Friday starting a 37-games-in-38-days march to the end of the season, it was not only ready but able.
"It just felt right tonight," Maddon said.
Archer worked a solid seven innings, allowing a run in the first and another in the sixth and only four hits overall, his stripes now 3-0, 1.23 against Yankees pinstripes. Already confident, Archer was further empowered by having his parents, mentor and North Carolina high school buddies among the crowd of 24,239.
"I really didn't feel like I could fail," Archer said. "And that's when I execute pitches the most, when I feel like I can't fail."
Jose Lobaton, his parents still in town from Venezuela, hit the first of the four Rays homers off Yankees ace Hiroki Kuroda, a three-run shot in the second that earned him the now-obligatory ice cream treat on the bench.
"Mister Softee did it again," Maddon cracked.
Lobaton offered Joyce a bite, but he said he would earn his own, and did, following Evan Longoria's third-inning shot with his own, making it 5-1. Ben Zobrist's fifth-inning solo blast completed the power show off Kuroda, who hadn't allowed a homer since June 30.
DeJesus had a memorable debut, falling as he rounded first after a hit in his second at-bat, making a catch at a critical point in the seventh before crashing into the leftfield wall, and being spotlighted in the wildest victory celebration — standard for the Rays — he had ever seen.
"Unbelievable," he said. "It's one of those things you can't even describe. Walking through that door, I was like, 'What is going on in here?' "
Just the Rays way of saying hello.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]pabay.com.