ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Strong pitching, solid defence and just enough offence. Call it the Rays way.
Tampa Bay continued its improbable bid for the AL wild card with a 5-3 victory over the New York Yankees on Tuesday night, taking the chase down to the last night of the regular season after getting home runs from Matt Joyce and Ben Zobrist and turning a triple play that helped them stay in the game.
Seeking their third playoff berth in four seasons, the Rays are tied with Boston after making up nine games in the standings since Sept. 4.
The Red Sox beat Baltimore 8-7, and if the teams remain tied after Wednesday's season finales, they will meet in a one-game playoff Thursday at Tropicana Field.
"We don't feel like we have anything to lose. We've had a great run," Zobrist said. "We're hoping to cap it with a playoff berth."
Joyce's three-run homer off former teammate Rafael Soriano (2-3) was the all-star's first in more than three weeks and it wiped out a 3-2 deficit in the seventh. Zobrist hit a two-run drive off Bartolo Colon in the second, and the Rays kept the score close by turning the third triple play in franchise history after falling behind in the sixth.
"Everybody's thirsty for offence, and we'd like to score more," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "But we're built around pitching and defence."
Jake McGee (4-2) pitched one scoreless inning to get the win. With a crowd of 22,820 standing and cheering, Kyle Farnsworth got the final three outs for his 25th save in 31 chances. The victory was the fourth straight for Tampa Bay, which trailed the Red Sox by nine games before battling back into the wild-card race.
"Catching Boston was a big thing, but we still haven't accomplished what we set out to do from the beginning of spring training," Rays designated hitter Johnny Damon said.
Russell Martin of Chelsea, Que., hit a solo homer for the Yankees in the third, but also grounded into the triple play that helped Jeremy Hellickson escape further damage after Nick Swisher's RBI double gave New York a 3-2 lead in the sixth.
The Yankees, who clinched the division title and homefield advantage throughout the AL playoffs last week, rested Derek Jeter and plan to play most — if not all — of their regular lineup again on Wednesday. Manager Joe Girardi remained undecided on a starting pitcher for the finale, but it figures to be a reliever.
New York general manager Brian Cashman reiterated how nice it is to be in a position to not have to go down to the wire.
"I'm not pulling for anybody. I know I'm glad that we were able to do what we did," Cashman said. "I know that both parties involved, Boston and Tampa Bay, are having sleepless nights. They're hungry. Rather than have to live to through it, I think both want to fast forward it to see what happens. I've been there."
Zobrist has homered five times in his last 10 games after going 39 games without hitting one. Martin's solo homer trimmed the early lead to 2-1, and the Yankees tied it in the fourth when Brett Gardner, who had singled, scored from third as Curtis Granderson grounded into a double play.
New York wasted a couple of opportunities to take charge against Hellickson, who allowed three runs and six hits in six innings. Mark Teixeira flied to right field with the bases loaded to end the third, and the Yankees also failed to score with the bases filled in the sixth, when Martin grounded into the 5-4-3 triple play.
After Swisher's RBI double, Jorge Posada drew an intentional walk to load the bases against Hellickson with no outs. The rookie escaped the jam when Martin hit a sharp grounder to third baseman Evan Longoria, who stepped on the bag and threw to second baseman Zobrist for the second out. Zobrist's relay to first arrived ahead of Martin, who dived head first into the base.
"What I was hoping for was maybe a double play and giving up one run," Maddon said. "But my God, how do you even envision a triple play. We were very fortunate with that. The ball was hit in a perfect spot."
"You can't hit it in a more perfect spot," he said. "That was a big break for them."
Colon allowed two runs and seven hits in 5 1-3 innings. Girardi used four relievers — Soriano, Cory Wade, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera — in their final tune-up for the playoffs.
"We're professionals. We try to win every game," Martin said. "We want to play these guys tough. They just had our number today."
NOTES: The Rays played without 1B Casey Kotchman, who was scratched from the lineup after experiencing chest tightness and being taken to a hospital for precautionary tests. The team said all of the tests were negative. ... Damon singled in the second inning, moving past Lou Gehrig into sole possession of 57th place on the career hits list with 2,722. ... Tampa Bay and Boston both are trying to become the first team to start a season 0-6 and make the playoffs. ... Cashman flew to Florida to take part in a post-season organizational meeting with Girardi and his coaching staff. More talks will take place Wednesday. ... Girardi said it's possible the Yankees will use three starters and have 10 or 11 pitchers overall for the opening playoff round. LHP CC Sabathia and RHP Ivan Nova will start Games 1 and 2. The Yankees have not announced their Game 3 starter. ... Cashman confirmed that the New York Mets denied the Yankees request to have their triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre team play one season in Newark. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's stadium is undergoing major renovations.