- Wallace Matthews, ESPN Staff Writer
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What it means: That for the next few hours at least, the Yankees can enjoy sole possession of first place in the AL East after a well-played 5-3 win over the Rays. Of course, the Orioles can even the score tonight against the Oakland Athletics, but until about midnight, and maybe beyond, the Yankees can enjoy the view from the top all by themselves.
Bossa Nova: Ivan Nova made a successful return to the rotation after his stay on the DL with an inflamed rotator cuff, working into the seventh inning, allowing four hits and two runs, walking two and striking out eight with a fastball that topped out at 96 mph. Nova left to a standing ovation and tapped his chest and tipped his cap in acknowledgement.
High-RISP occupation: The Yankees excelled in the weakest part of their game, timely hitting, getting clutch RBI singles out of Derek Jeter in the fifth and Alex Rodriguez in the eighth. Their average w/RISP today? An eye-popping .667 (2-for-3).
Power surge: The Yankees went back-to-back for the 11th time this season, when Curtis Granderson belted No. 39, with a man aboard, and Eduardo Nuñez followed with No. 1, off James Shields in the third inning to give the Yankees a 3-0 lead. For Nuñez, it was his first home run since last Sept. 21 -- also off Shields. It was also an impressive rebound off his performance Friday night, when he booted an easy grounder in the ninth inning to cost the Yankees a game.
Pen running dry? Neither Boone Logan nor Joba Chamberlain could do what they were called in to do today -- namely, keep the Rays from capitalizing on Jeff Keppinger's leadoff single that drove Nova from the game in the seventh.
Logan got one out on a botched sacrifice attempt by Ben Francisco, but then allowed a double to Ryan Roberts. Chamberlain made a good play on Chris Gimenez's comebacker to get an out, but then hung a 1-2 slider to PH Luke Scott, who rapped a two-run single to made it a 4-3 game.
No escape necessary: David Robertson worked a clean eighth inning, getting three quick outs with no need for Houdini-type heroics.
Binder brilliance: For just the second time since Ichiro Suzuki became a Yankee, Joe Girardi wrote his name at the top of his lineup card -- and saw his decision pay dividends in the fifth. Ichiro lined a two-out single, stole second and scored the Yankees' fourth run on Jeter's RBI single.
Risky reaction: A fan in the right-field bleachers, reacting to the boos of the crowd to throw back Evan Longoria's sixth-inning home run ball, obliged -- and hit Raul Ibañez in the leg. The 40-year-old right-fielder was surprised, but luckily, not hurt.
Zack attack: Rodriguez's sixth-inning single was the 2,885th hit of his career, moving him ahead of Zack Wheat into 37th place on baseball's all-time hits list, 1,371 behind Pete Rose and 401 behind Jeter.
What's coming: Johnette Howard with a column on Granderson, who despite leading the team with 39 homers may not be a slam dunk for long-term employment in the Bronx. Mike Mazzeo and I will be at Girardi's postgame news conference and prowling the clubhouse for blog items.