- Wallace Matthews, ESPNNewYork.com
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- It would be easy to try to portray the New York Yankees' 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday afternoon as a triumph of the resiliency of their lineup, or the incomparable patience of their hitters, or their (mostly) effective bullpen.
And it would be just as easy to celebrate it as a sort of Yankees Independence Day, the breaking of a "curse," the curse of Tropicana Field, a place in which they had lost nine straight and not managed to win a game in a nearly a year.
There would even be an element of truth in any one of those contentions.
But when you boil it all down, this one-run game between two teams that almost always seem to play each other as if it were the last game of the World Series came down to this: The weak link in the Rays' bullpen on Wednesday was worse than the weak link in the Yankees'.
And as a result, the Yankees were spared not only the indignity of their 10th straight loss in a ballpark that looks more like a circus tent, but the very real concern of dragging their exhausted and dispirited tails into Fenway Park for a four-games-in-three-days series with the Boston Red Sox coming off a sweep by the Rays.
"It's a tremendous win for us," Joe Girardi said. "I don't worry about this group because I know this group is mature and they know how to handle things, but it's nice to get a win, especially before a day off and the long stretch that we had."
And, he didn't bother to mention, heading off the play the Red Sox.
David Price, one of the best starters in the AL, pitched brilliantly for seven innings, and his Yankees counterpart, David Phelps, a rookie making his first start in nearly two months, essentially matched him for 4 1/3 innings.
As a result, neither team hit much -- both pitchers had no-hitters for the first three innings -- and for two-thirds of the game, it was a Fourth of July without any fireworks.
Phelps allowed one run on just two hits, and it looked as if that that would be enough for Price until he made a mistake to Mark Teixeira -- his only mistake of the game, Tex said -- and the resulting solo home run sent both teams back to square one.
And that's when things began to get sloppy. Boone Logan, the Yankees "lefty specialist," came on to surrender a two-run homer to Yankee killer Carlos Peña, a left-handed batter, in the bottom of the seventh, and the way Price was pitching -- Girardi said the Rays' lefty had "no-hit stuff" -- the game seemed to be essentially lost right there.
But then came Farnsworth, who -- in just his second outing of the season due to an elbow strain -- managed to walk four of the five hitters he faced, including Alex Rodriguez with the bases loaded to pull the Yankees within one run.
At that point, Joe Maddon asked Jake McGee to clean up Farnsworth's mess, which only required him to retire Robinson Cano with the bases loaded. And even allowing for Cano's microscopic BA with the bases loaded this season (.077, 1-for-13, the one a HR), that is a task a lot easier asked than accomplished.
And McGee was not up to the task, leaving a 2-2 fastball over the plate for Cano to lash into center, scoring the two runs necessary for the Yankees to wrap up the win.
And with David Robertson given a clean eighth to work, a game that looked headed for discouraging defeat turned into a rather routine victory.
"Every win is a big win, but it's good to get that monkey off your back," said Cano, who took the team lead with 50 RBIs. "You want to be able to win one and get it over with. You don't want to go to Boston losing three games."
That was the real value of this victory, the continuing of a winning trend that had carried the Yankees to a 20-7 June but, until this one, a 1-2 July.
Some of the major problems facing this team still exist -- Alex Rodriguez and Russell Martin continue to look lost at the plate, and despite the effectiveness of Cody Eppley, Robertson and Rafael Soriano, who earned his 19th save, the bullpen is beginning to show signs of being overworked -- but at least the Yankees can head into their first off day in two weeks on a positive note.
At the official midpoint of the season, the Yankees are 49-32 and hold a five-game lead over the Orioles, a 6½-game lead over the Rays and a 7½-game cushion over the Red Sox.
A loss in the series finale against Tampa wouldn't have made much of a difference in those numbers, but the win certainly makes a difference in a team's mindset, no matter how it's accomplished.
"Now we can have a happy flight to Boston," Nick Swisher said.
"It's big for us," said Teixeira. "You certainly don't want to get swept here and you don't want to go into the (All-Star) break on a losing streak, definitely. You want to win some games so you feel good about taking a few days off."
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Despite his poor seventh inning, Logan (3-0, 3.34) wound up with the victory. ... Phelps struck out a career-high eight batters, but going deep into counts caused him to hit his pitch ceiling (81) after just 4 1/3 innings. Phelps' ERA in his three starts this year is 2.08, but he has only lasted a total of 13 innings in those three starts. ... Martin went 0-for-4 to run his hitless streak to 0-for-27. The Rays also stole two more bases Wednesday, to make the Yankees 0-for-8 against Tampa Bay base-stealers in the two games Martin caught. ... Rodriguez went 2-for-4, one an infield hit, and struck out looking in his first two at-bats against Price. A-Rod showed speed and aggressiveness on the bases, hustling what looked like a single into a double in the seventh, and stealing third base twice in the inning when he was sent back after his first attempt because HP ump Mike Estabrook interfered with Rays C Jose Lobaton. Rodriguez is now 7-for-7 in steal attempts this season. ... Yankees pitchers struck out a season-high 16 batters in the game. TB pitchers struck out 11. Curtis Granderson was victimized three times.
Bombers had, um, better bullpen goat in ending Trop curse before Boston series.