NEW YORK — The Rays had a game plan on how to beat the Yankees and ace CC Sabathia in the opening game of their pivotal six-game road trip.
They knew they'd need strong pitching, and they got it from David Price, who delivered eight solid innings. They had to play good defense, and they did so all over the field.
But it was the offense they missed on. Because on this rare night, they didn't have to scratch and claw as usual. Instead, they were the Bronx Bombers, hitting a season-high five home runs in a 5-1 win Friday night.
"Against that pitcher, you just don't expect it," manager Joe Maddon said. "Just happy that it did."
The win was just the first of five or six the Rays need during the trip to New York and Boston to really get back in the postseason race, but it came with some intriguing notations.
It was their fifth straight, matching their season high, and their 11th in their past 15 games. The victory improved them to 64-54, matching their season high at 10 games over .500. And it moved them to within 7 ½ games of the second-place Yankees in the American League East, the closest they've been since July 29.
"It's a good start," said third baseman Evan Longoria, who hit the Rays' fifth solo homer of the night and the 100th of his career. He followed first baseman Casey Kotchman, catcher Kelly Shoppach and DH Johnny Damon, who went deep in a five-batter, 19-pitch stretch in the third inning. Longoria's eighth-inning shot also came after a fifth-inning homer by shortstop Elliot Johnson, one of Maddon's "best guess" additions to the lineup in place of Matt Joyce.
Sabathia, having yet another season worthy of Cy Young consideration, had never given up more than three homers in a game, so it was obviously headline news in New York that he allowed three in one inning (for the second time), and a Yankees-record-tying five in a game.
"It's a humbling sport," Sabathia said. "Today was definitely humbling."
But Shoppach, who used to catch Sabathia when both were Indians, said the Rays deserve some credit.
"I know CC's great and he's been great, but I'd like to think that we can hit a little bit, too," he said. "We got some pitches to hit, and we hit them."
Price didn't give the Yankees much, snapping out of a skid in which he had won just once in his last eight starts and had looked bad in doing so.
But Friday he was sharp, using his off-speed pitches early in the count then turning to his blazing fastball, allowing six hits (five singles) over eight innings, his longest stint since June 22.
"His best game in a while," Maddon said.
Certainly better than his last at Yankee Stadium, when he allowed shortstop Derek Jeter's 3,000th hit.
"It was a big win for us, it was a good thing for me and it felt good," Price said.
It was the fifth time Price and Sabathia matched up and the fifth time the Rays came out on top.
The defense was dazzling all around, though second baseman Sean Rodriguez was hoisting the miniature gold glove they award each other. The highlights were queued up, from Johnson and Rodriguez up the middle to Kotchman at first and Desmond Jennings in left. Plus rightfielder Ben Zobrist, Rodriguez and Shoppach teamed to throw DH Nick Swisher out at the plate.
"Spectacular," Maddon said. "All that stuff was fun to watch."
Longoria had the proper perspective on what the Rays accomplished. He had the bat and lineup card from his "pretty special" milestone, which moved him ahead of Fred McGriff for fourth on the Rays homer list. And in lieu of the actual ball, he wants to add another one to his planned trophy case.
"Hopefully," he said, "CC won't be too mad (today) or the next day, but I'm going to ask him to sign a ball for me."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]