Yankees beat Rays, reclaim first place over Orioles by one game

Russell Martin, right, high-fives third base coach Rob

Russell Martin, right, high-fives third base coach Rob Thomson after hitting a sixth-inning home run off Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Matt Moore during a game in St. Petersburg, Fla. (Sept. 5, 2012) (Credit: AP)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- His team in a tailspin and no longer in sole possession of first place, Joe Girardi took the team-meeting approach Wednesday afternoon.

"We talked about some things," Girardi said shortly after it ended. "We just wanted to talk about some of the things that we're going through, the importance that you go through it, you've been through it and we'll come out of it."

For a night, they did, topping the sloppy Rays, 6-4, in front of 16, 711 at Tropicana Field.

Because of the Orioles' loss in Toronto, the Yankees (77-59) take a one-game lead into their four-game series at Camden Yards tonight.

The Rays (75-62) fell to 21/2 back.

"Over all, there's a good feeling in here right now," said Alex Rodriguez, who had an RBI double in a three-run fourth. "There's no question, it's sink or swim time."

Said Girardi: "It's a good feeling but they know we have a lot of business to take care of. We have to keep going . . . hopefully it propels us to play good baseball going into Baltimore."

Of the four-game set against the Orioles, Nick Swisher said: "It's exciting. It's what baseball's all about."

Exciting hasn't been a word used much of late around the Yankees, who improved to 20-25 since July 18 when they held a 10-game lead in the division. The skid caused Girardi to call the meeting, attended by him and Director of Mental Conditioning Chad Bohling, but not the coaching staff.

"From time to time, you have to have them [meetings]," Girardi said.

Russell Martin, who has battled much of the season to get his batting average to .200, raised it to .202 by going 2-for-4 with a homer and two-run double.

As important as Martin was, a pair of unearned runs that came in on a throwing error in the seventh snapped a 4-4 tie and provided the winning runs.

Hiroki Kuroda wasn't great, allowing four runs and eight hits in six innings, but the bullpen was, though the unit owed a hat-tip to Derek Jeter.

With two on in the seventh and David Robertson on the mound, the shortstop, who also had three hits to give him an MLB-high 182, ran at full speed and chased down Matt Joyce's flare in short left. Jeter did appear to jog gingerly back to the dugout after making the catch.

Girardi said he thought Jeter tweaked a sore ankle that first cropped up during Tuesday's game but Jeter, not surprisingly, dismissed that.

"I'm good," he said. "You play this many games, you're bound to have something that bothers you. It's not a big deal."

Rafael Soriano earned his 36th save with a perfect ninth.

With the infield in in the seventh, Jeter sent a hard grounder to Elliot Johnson at second. Johnson came up throwing to get Ichiro Suzuki -- pinch running for Andruw Jones who has singled -- at home but threw wildly, allowing Ichiro and Pearce to score, making it 6-4.

The Yankees' three-run fourth was keyed when Johnson ran well behind second and dropped Jeter's blooper to lead off (the play was scored a hit).

Notes and quotes: Andy Pettitte (left ankle fracture) threw a 16-pitch simulated game Wednesday afternoon. "I felt I threw the ball well, I felt I was pushing off full," Pettitte said. "It was a good day." The lefthander will throw another simulated game later in the week and said the next big obstacle is getting clearance from the doctor to begin running. GM Brian Cashman said before the game he still doesn't have a ballpark date for when he expects Pettitte back . . . Mark Teixeira hopes to test his left calf Thursday by running on the field in Baltimore and possibly getting back in the lineup by the weekend.

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