NEW YORK — The ball rocketed off Matt Joyce's bat toward the rightfield wall in the ninth inning Wednesday night, and as the Rays cheered what would be the three-run homer that gave them a dramatic 4-1 win over the Yankees, there was one thing amiss:
Joyce was on the ground in the batter's box, having rolled his left ankle on the mighty swing.
"It was definitely mixed emotions," Joyce said. "It was the best and worst feelings you can possibly have in the span of a minute. … It's always great to come up with a big hit like that, and especially against the Yankees. It's just hard to celebrate when you're laying on the ground and you just rolled your ankle."
Joyce got up and — eventually — made it around the bases, a slow, painful-looking trot reminiscent of Kirk Gibson's famous, and oft-replayed, blast in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.
"I wanted him to do the Kirk Gibson," infielder Elliot Johnson said. "I was looking for some fist-pumping from his right arm as he hobbled around the bases."
Joyce said he never thought about that, that it was enough of a challenge just getting around the bases. "I just thought about how much it was hurting," he said. "I kind of told myself, I had to make it around there."
Joyce got the ankle taped and played the field in the ninth, though he said it may be sprained and his status for tonight is in question. He may have been off anyway with lefty CC Sabathia starting.
The Rays (20-11), who regained sole possession of first place, had a good time teasing Joyce about his dramatics — "I've never seen anyone stay in the box for that long and look so bad at it," Johnson said — especially after what looked to be a wasted Wednesday. They were 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position (and 0-for-their-last-20 going back to Sunday), and though Jeff Niemann had delivered his best start of the season, working seven stellar innings, they were down 1-0 and down to their last three outs.
But first they tied the score in the ninth. They loaded the bases off Yankees replacement closer David Robertson on singles by Sean Rodriguez and pinch-hitter Brandon Allen, who aggressively took second as Rodriguez went first to third, and a walk to Ben Zobrist then scored on a sac fly by B.J. Upton.
That brought Joyce to the plate, but he wouldn't have even been in the game still had manager Joe Maddon followed through with a thought to pinch-hit for him in the fifth inning.
The Rays had the bases loaded then, with lefty Boone Logan coming out of the Yankees bullpen. Maddon, keeping track in the dugout of the weather forecast, which called for heavy rains during the game, was thinking hard about having Desmond Jennings hit for Joyce then. Even more so when Joyce went down swinging.
"That was a big moment right there," Maddon said. "If we had lost that game 1-0 in six innings because I didn't hit for him I would not have slept well tonight. … I was upset with myself. I didn't like me at that moment."
Joyce, essentially, saved the day for Maddon and Niemann, who extended his unbeaten streak against the Yankees to six starts. "That was as good as I've seen him in a while," Maddon said. "That was dominating in a sense."
Joyce took the incident, and the abuse, well. "It hurt my pride a little bit," he said. "But I think after the ball went over the fence I think the pride got a good kick."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]