ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The formula for the Yankees, if they're going to pull this off somehow and get to October, was on display the last two days at Tropicana Field.
Expecting a mostly underperforming offense to produce consistency it hasn't shown for nearly five months isn't realistic. To put a slight twist on Bill Parcells' long-ago line about a team's record, the offense by now is what it says it is.
And so it will come to this for the Yankees: scratch out some runs and hope a pitching staff that has excelled much of the season continues to do so.
That combination led to a 4-2 victory over the Rays Sunday, ending a trip that started with two losses in Baltimore and a defeat here Friday.
"This was a good bounce-back," said Mark Teixeira, whose 20th homer made it 4-2 in the eighth inning. "We hadn't played well the first few games of the road trip, so this was really good bouncing back the way we did the last two games."
The Yankees (63-59), who ended a five-game losing streak Saturday, went 2-3 on the trip. They are seven games behind the AL East-leading Orioles and 31/2 behind the Mariners for the second wild card. "It's not what we wanted, but it's better than it looked as of Friday night at 10:30, that's for sure," Joe Girardi said. "Hopefully this carries over and we get on another good roll when we go back home."
Starting Tuesday, it's six games against the Astros (52-73) and White Sox (59-65) with a chance to make up more ground.
Hiroki Kuroda (8-8, 3.97), working on six days' rest, allowed two runs and four hits in 62/3 innings. After Matt Joyce's single in the first, Kuroda retired 17 straight. Joyce broke the streak with a leadoff double in the seventh and scored on Evan Longoria's single to make it 3-2.
"He had everything in his arsenal today," Girardi said, highlighting his splitter and sinker.
Kuroda faded down the stretch the previous two seasons. He said the extra rest helped, and it's something the Yankees would like to give him whenever possible the rest of the way. "The two extra days, I was able to physically get refreshed as well as mentally," he said through his translator.
Brian McCann, who returned from the seven-day concussion DL, called Kuroda "awesome. He was splitting both sides of the plate, kept them off balance all day. They came out really aggressive and he settled in."
Jeremy Hellickson (1-2, 2.56) held the Yankees hitless before they put together four straight two-out hits in a three-run fifth.
Hellickson retired the first two hitters in the fifth before walking Stephen Drew. He got ahead of Martin Prado 0-and-2, but Prado doubled and Brett Gardner singled home two runs. Derek Jeter's hit-and-run single put runners on first and third before Jacoby Ellsbury grounded a hard single to left for a 3-1 lead.
The Yankees improved to an MLB-best 40-27 in games decided by one or two runs. They again got outstanding bullpen work, the biggest reason for that sterling mark in close games.
Shawn Kelley struck out pinch hitter Brandon Guyer with runners at the corners and two outs in the seventh, and Dellin Betances pitched a scoreless eighth. David Robertson earned his 33rd save in 35 chances, and 21st in a row, with a 1-2-3 ninth.
"Every time you win, you have a good feeling and you want to do it again," Robertson said. "We'll go back to New York, we'll enjoy our off day and get prepared for the next series."