ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays are reaching new heights on an almost daily basis.
After Monday's 7-1 win, they are six games over .500 for the first time in franchise history at 22-16, have the majors' best record (14-5) over the past three weeks, extended their winning streak to five and their major-league-best home streak to 10, are a half-game out of first place and are leading the AL wild-card race.
But there's another measure of their success that will never get old: beating the Yankees.
"Always, beating the Evil Empire is awesome," Jonny Gomes said. "They've been doing work on us for the last 10 years (a 115-58 advantage). … Anyone in the AL East, we'll take our wins. But beating those guys is always a little more fun."
Especially from their new perspective: the Rays' 3½ game advantage over the Yankees (19-20) is the largest they've ever had in their 10-plus seasons.
They did it all kinds of ways Monday. There was more strong pitching, with Matt Garza working seven shutout innings for his best start as a Ray, though needing 108 pitches.
"Garza was very good today," manager Joe Maddon said. "The ball was very much alive. It's not often you see the Yankees take those kind of swings against that fastball, so that told me the ball was moving a lot."
Garza, who scattered five hits, is 2-1 with a 1.37 ERA in three quality starts since his so-so return from the disabled list April 25 and said he's still improving: "It's almost there."
There was another sparkling show of defense, with second baseman Akinori Iwamura turning three double plays and making a running grab of a foul popup.
And there was the kind of all-in offense that has become the Ray way, with Gomes sparking three rallies (two singles, two steals, three runs); Dioner Navarro rapping three more singles to raise his average to .362; and No. 9 hitter Jason Bartlett getting the big hit, a two-run triple in the middle of their four-run fourth.
Within the win was another victory: They disposed quickly of known tormentor Andy Pettitte, who was 14-3, 3.62 against them overall and 8-1 at the Trop, beating him there for the first time since Sept. 16, 1998 — when rookie Evan Longoria was 12.
"The way they're pitching is outstanding," Yankees outfielder Johnny Damon said. "Their offense has always been pretty good. … You can never have enough good players. And it seems like they're stacked with them now."
About the only thing that wasn't good: a crowd of 13,932. Since the Yankees were last at the Trop, April 14-15, the Rays have gone from 6-8 to 22-16 and moved from fifth place to second in the AL East, yet they drew fewer fans — the April games, on a Monday and Tuesday, drew 18,872 and 20,923.
"It's a little disappointing right now," Maddon said. "I think we're playing a pretty good brand of baseball. But I also believe it's still school, it's a Monday night, I get all that. I've been through that before in other places. But I want the people to understand, our fan base, that it really does make a difference to us when they're out there and you hear, 'Let's go, Rays,' as opposed to 'Let's go, whomever.' "
Marc Topkin can be reached at