Vernon Wells still had confidence as he headed for the plate Saturday afternoon, even though he was mired in one of the worst slumps of his career, even though he recently was benched because of it.
And even with the buzz from the Stadium crowd suggesting it much preferred to see Chris Stewart take the at-bat instead of Wells, the outfielder was sent up to pinch hit for the catcher with the bases loaded in the seventh, two outs and the Yankees trailing by a run.
But in a game with few timely hits by the Yankees, Wells came through with the biggest one, delivering a three-run double that produced a 7-5 victory over the Rays in front of 46,013.
The hit not only got CC Sabathia off the hook but made him the winning pitcher after he allowed a grand slam to rookie Wil Myers with two outs in the sixth that gave the Rays a 5-3 lead.
"I never lose confidence. As soon as you lose confidence, you're done,'' said Wells, who entered the at-bat against hard-throwing lefty Jake McGee hitless in his last 11 at-bats, in a 9-for-90 skid overall and without an extra-base hit in 62 at-bats since May 31.
But despite Wells' struggles, Joe Girardi has liked his at-bats against lefthanders, which was the reason he sent him up against McGee.
Wells lined a 1-and-2 pitch -- a 96-mph fastball on the outer half -- to right-center, and the drive one-hopped the wall, squirted straight up and was gloved by a fan, who dropped the ball back on the field. Lyle Overbay and Zoilo Almonte scored easily, and David Adams also was allowed to score when the umpires ruled he would have come home if not for fan interference.
Adams, who had not walked in his first 86 major-league plate appearances, drew two walks Saturday, one with the bases loaded to pull the Yankees within 5-4 in the seventh. That came after Almonte, who drove in three runs with a two-run single and a bases-loaded walk, walked to load the bases.
The Yankees (41-33) walked nine times against Rays pitching -- Robinson Cano had a career-high four -- with four of those batters coming around to score.
Mariano Rivera allowed an infield single in the ninth but pitched a scoreless inning to record his 26th save in 27 chances.
Girardi characterized the victory as significant. "I think it's a big win for us,'' he said. "We had our struggles the last week on the road and we have a chance to win a series, which is what we focus on, against a division rival that's very tough on us.''
The huge hit by Wells allowed Sabathia (8-5, 4.09) to avoid what would have been a tough loss to swallow.
With the Yankees protecting a 3-1 lead in the sixth, Desmond Jennings' double put runners on second and third with none out. After a strikeout and foulout, Sabathia intentionally walked Evan Longoria -- who had sent a drive onto the Monument Park netting for his third homer of the series and doubled -- to pitch to Myers.
Sabathia got ahead 1-and-2 but could not finish off the 22-year-old, who made his major-league debut Tuesday. He grooved a belt-high 94-mph fastball that the righthanded-hitting Myers drove to deep right-center.
Brett Gardner went back to the wall and appeared to time his leap correctly, but the ball hit the top of the wall and deflected off his glove and into the seats for a grand slam.
The rookie's first career homer put the Rays ahead 5-3 and sucked much of the energy from the crowd -- which, as the pitch was thrown, was as loud as it had been all afternoon.
"Big mistake,'' said Sabathia, who watched Gardner go back on the ball and then squatted unhappily on the mound when he realized he hadn't caught it. "I'm happy these guys came back and were able to overcome my mistake. Feels good to get a win.''
Thanks to Wells. "It's awesome to get a lift from him,'' Sabathia said. "That's a big hit. Hopefully we can build off of that and keep going.''