ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - It would have been, to use gross understatement, a bad loss.
Jorge Posada, with a big assist from September call up Greg Golson, made sure it didn't happen.
Posada led off the 10th with a mammoth pinch-hit home run off the roof of the restaurant in centerfield to give the Yankees a much-needed 8-7 victory over the Rays last night in front of 28,713 at Tropicana Field.
"Huge win for us, no question," said Alex Rodriguez, whose 23rd homer of the season, in the fifth inning, gave the Yankees a 5-0 lead.
Mariano Rivera pitched a scoreless 10th for his 30th save, but not without a major scare.
Carl Crawford led off the inning with a single and Evan Longoria followed with a fly to deep center that Curtis Granderson caught on the warning track, just a few feet short of what would have been a walk-off homer.
Crawford remained at first but stole second with Matt Joyce at the plate. But Crawford's aggressiveness eventually cost the Rays.
Joyce lofted a fly ball to short rightfield that was caught near the foul line by Golson. Crawford tagged from second and was gunned down on a one-hop throw, with a good tag by A-Rod, ending the game.
The usual rightfielder, Nick Swisher, out with an injury, was impressed. "Unbelievable," he said as he left the clubhouse. "That's one of those, 'gee, wow' ones."
The same could be said of the game, one in which the Yankees and rookie Ivan Nova blew a 6-0 lead but eventually won to take a half-game lead in the AL East and end a four-game skid.
"If we lost this game, it would have been tough," Posada said.
Granderson, who had two doubles, helped send the game to extra innings with a diving catch, one in which he laid his body out horizontally to rob Ben Zobrist to end the ninth.
"I was just trying to keep an eye on it and at the last minute it's, hey, this is the only chance I have to make a play on it, let me leave my feet," Granderson said.
No one had a chance to make a catch on Posada's bomb, hit off Rays' reliever Dan Wheeler on a 2-and-0 pitch.
"It feels good to hit the home run that gave us a chance to win," Posada said.
Nova was as good as any Yankees pitcher has been this year through four innings and when a 4-0 lead, built in a four-run third highlighted by Robinson Cano's two-run homer, became a 6-0 one in the top of the fifth, an easy victory seemed in the offing.
But the Rays sent 10 to the plate in the bottom half, the rally starting with Carlos Pena's solo homer. After Nova gave up consecutive RBI singles, Boone Logan came on and allowed a three-run blast to pinch hitter Willy Aybar that made it 7-6. The Yankees tied it at 7 in the sixth on Cano's RBI double.
The victory enabled manager Joe Girardi, at least for one night, to breath a sigh of relief.
"This was maybe one of the toughest tests that we've had," Girardi said of the recent stretch where the Yankees had lost seven of eight entering last night. "It's a great win."