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Tampa Bay Rays tie for AL wild-card lead with 5-2 win over New York Yankees

Kelly Shoppach is congratulated by Reid Brignac after hitting a solo home run in the fourth inning — his second homer in two days — to give the Rays a 4-2 lead.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Kelly Shoppach is congratulated by Reid Brignac after hitting a solo home run in the fourth inning — his second homer in two days — to give the Rays a 4-2 lead.

ST. PETERSBURG — Manager Joe Maddon usually likes to watch. But his emotions spent by the end of the 5-2 win over the Yankees on Monday night, he sat in his office to listen for the reaction as his players gathered around the clubhouse TVs to watch the final out of Boston's 6-3 loss that pulled the Rays into a tie for the wild-card lead.

"I just sat here waiting to hear (David Price's) voice," Maddon said. "David's the first one to scream. So it's great. We're really into it. We feel good about this. We like our chances."

The win — pure Rays, with a strong 82/3-inning start by James Shields, a spectacular catch by leftfielder Desmond Jennings and just enough key hits — pushed them into a tie with the sagging Red Sox with two games to play.

More important, they regained control of their own destiny.

If the Rays — who were nine games out Sept. 3 — win their final two against the Yankees and beat the Red Sox in a one-game playoff Thursday afternoon at the Trop, they will be flying off to face the Tigers or Rangers on Friday. They could do it with less work, of course, if they win their final two and the Red Sox win only one in Baltimore, or if they win one and the Sox don't win any.

"Our fate's in our hands," Shields said. "We don't have to worry about the Red Sox losing now. That feels really good. Especially how far we were back. … To be able to be tied with them is phenomenal."

"We're in the driver's seat in our opinion," third baseman Evan Longoria said. "It's our job just to go out there and win."

Better yet for the Rays (89-71), they have the pitching matchups in their favor, starting with rookie of the year candidate Jeremy Hellickson tonight against battered Bartolo Colon, who hasn't won since July 30. "I'm ready to go," Hellickson said.

Wednesday, they'll have Price against a reliever to be named, and if they get to a playoff Thursday, Jeff Niemann or potentially rookie phenom Matt Moore.

Shields, who won for the 16th time in his remarkable renaissance, was adamant Monday wasn't going to be his last start of the season. He did everything he could to ensure it, making a mid-game adjustment to correct poor mechanics and even changing jerseys after a dugout coffee spill, holding the Yankees (who started most of their regulars) to six hits while falling an out shy of his 12th complete game.

"It's exciting right now," Shields said. "Everything about it is exciting. From the way we came back nine games down in September and now here we are, we're all squared up."

The Yankees took advantage of Shields' lack of sharpness early to take a 2-0 lead, before a spirited but small crowd of 18,772, and the Rays helped with a pair of questionable baserunning moves that led to two inning-ending outs at home plate.

But they rallied in the third when B.J. Upton, hitting a torrid .375 during their stretch run, doubled in the tying runs off rookie fill-in starter Hector Noesi, and Johnny Damon singled to put them ahead to stay. They added on with another homer by Kelly Shoppach in the fourth, then a Damon sac fly as the Yankees used the Column B side of their bullpen, plus rehabbing Phil Hughes.

As excited as the Rays were to be even with Boston's loss — "We were going nuts," Shields said — they are well aware there is more to be done if they are to become the first team to make the playoffs after being nine out in September.

"It does mean something, to be that far back during this month and we're tied with a couple games to go," Maddon said. "That's quite an accomplishment in and of itself. But when you get to this point, you really want to finish things off."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Rays tie for AL wild-card lead with 5-2 win over New York Yankees 09/26/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 27, 2011 2:29pm]
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