ST. PETERBURG, Fla. -- The man who started an improbable rally in the ninth had the winning hit two innings later. In what has been an improbable Yankees season, it was fitting.
Lyle Overbay's solo homer off Josh Lueke with two outs in the 11th inning gave the Yankees a 4-3 win over the Rays in front of a Tropicana Field crowd of 25,874 that included managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner.
"He's been big for us all year,'' Joe Girardi said of Overbay, who was picked up late in spring training out of desperation, has far exceeded expectations and will lose his everyday-player status when Mark Teixeira returns, a possibility within the week.
Girardi added, "He's a big reason we're where we're at.''
The Yankees (30-18) are where they're at because of games like this, another example of, in the words of Brett Gardner, being able to "steal one.''
With two outs and no one on base in the ninth, they scored two runs to force extra innings before Ivan Nova (2-1) pitched out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the 10th. Mariano Rivera, the Yankees' seventh pitcher, struck out two in a perfect 11th to earn his 18th save in 18 chances.
The Yankees, whose bullpen came in with a 1.67 ERA this month and allowed one run in the final five innings, will go for a rare sweep of the Rays (24-24) Sunday afternoon in a building that's been unkind to them. "We've struggled a lot. I don't know the numbers. I don't want to know the numbers,'' Gardner said of the team's 9-18 record here the previous three years. "It doesn't seem like we've won a whole lot of games here the last few years. They've really had our number.''
Lueke, who came on in the 10th, retired Ichiro Suzuki and Jayson Nix to start the 11th. That brought up Overbay, who sent a laser to right for his eighth homer. He had walked with two outs in the ninth against Rays closer Fernando Rodney to set up an RBI double by pinch hitter Brennan Boesch and an RBI single by Gardner that tied it at 3-3.
Nova, who declared "I'm not a bullpen guy'' upon being activated from the disabled list Friday, looked shaky but ultimately OK in that role Saturday.
Ryan Roberts singled to start the 10th and, after Nova struck out Luke Scott, Evan Longoria singled to right. Nova walked Ben Zobrist on four pitches to load the bases but struck out James Loney on three pitches and got Matt Joyce to ground out to second to end the inning.
"I was ready for that moment,'' Nova said. "I have to take advantage of every opportunity, and today was the first one.''
With two outs in the ninth and the Yankees trailing 3-1, Overbay worked a walk and was balked to second by Rodney. Boesch -- called up earlier in the day when Curtis Granderson was put on the disabled list with a broken left pinkie -- punched a pinch-hit double down the leftfield line to make it 3-2. Down 1-and-2, Gardner poked a single to center, and Boesch just beat Desmond Jennings' throw to the plate to tie it at 3-3 and hand Rodney his fifth blown save of the season.
"I had a feeling I was going to get an opportunity there, just the way the game was shaking out,'' said Boesch, who boarded a plane at 6:20 a.m. Saturday from Scranton, through Detroit, to get here by game time. "I was just trying to do anything I could to put a good at-bat on it.''
The starters almost became afterthoughts as the 4-hour, 3- minute game wore on. Yankees rookie lefthander Vidal Nuño had a second good start, allowing two runs and five hits in six innings-plus. Rays lefthander Matt Moore, who came in 8-0 with a 2.29 ERA, allowed one run and five hits in six innings.
"That's a big win today,'' Girardi said. "You hope it gives you momentum. We're in a really long streak [17 straight games] and we're in a tough streak. Hopefully it gives us some momentum for tomorrow.''