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Yankees Hold On To First Place Lead

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Hiroku Kiroda (Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Hiroku Kiroda (Jason Miller/Getty Images)

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By BEN WALKER
AP Baseball Writer

NEW YORK (AP) _ Nick Swisher drew a nice cheer for his rare
bunt, Eduardo Nunez energized the crowd with three steals and
Russell Martin earned the biggest ovation for his home run.

The New York Yankees mixed and matched against Tampa Bay _ at
the plate and on the mound _ and emerged with a 6-4 win Sunday that
kept them ahead in the AL East and ended a most damaging road trip
for the Rays.

Now, the Yankees can relax. For a bit, anyway.

“We have a day off. Guys are going to rest tomorrow,” manager
Joe Girardi said. “It’s their last one of the year and they’d
better rest because we still have a grind left.”

Martin’s three-run shot highlighted an eventful early burst as
New York won with small ball and a longball.

The Yankees took the last two in the three-game series, and have
16 left to play. They hold a one-game division lead over Baltimore.

On Tuesday night, they host Toronto. Andy Pettitte rejoins the
rotation for the first time since a batted ball broke his left leg
in late June.

Minus ejected manager Joe Maddon, the Rays fell five games
behind the Yankees and dropped farther in back of the Orioles and
Los Angeles Angels in the scramble for the last wild-card berth.
Cleanup man Matt Joyce also was tossed as Tampa Bay finished 1-5 on
its visit to Yankee Stadium and Camden Yards.

“The math isn’t in our favor,” Maddon said.

Then again, Tampa Ray pulled off an incredible rally last season
to earn a playoff spot on the final day. This year, an extra slot
is available.

“The baseball gods have created two wild cards, so let’s see
what happens,” he said.

Ben Zobrist homered and doubled for Tampa Bay. Down 6-1, the
Rays scored three times in the sixth inning and later brought the
potential go-ahead run to the plate, but couldn’t break through
against the back end of the Yankees’ bullpen.

Hiroki Kuroda (14-10) set a career high for wins, struck out 10
in six innings and beat Tampa Bay for the second time this month.
Rafael Soriano, the Yankees’ fifth pitcher, earned his 40th save in
43 chances.

Matt Moore (10-11) lost his fourth straight start. The rookie
and Kuroda started out well in the last scheduled game between the
teams, with the first nine outs overall on strikeouts. Each team
finished with only five hits.

Martin’s opposite-field shot to right field came during a crazy
five-run third. The inning included an errant pickoff throw, a wild
pitch, three walks, a pair of steals, Swisher’s first sacrifice
bunt of the season, warnings to both benches and Maddon’s ejection.

Derek Jeter put the Yankees ahead with an RBI single, moments
after playfully pointing his bat toward a young fan who was taking
his picture while he was on deck, Swisher bunted and Alex Rodriguez
clapped his hands after singling through the drawn-in infield for a
2-0 lead.

“Yeah, I take full credit for it,” said Swisher, who had one
sacrifice last year.

“In a situation right there, I felt like it needed to be
done,” he said. “I tried to lay it down right there, and the next
thing you know, Rod comes up there _ ribbie.”

Martin made it 5-0 with his 17th homer. Two batters later, Moore
threw a 95 mph fastball behind the helmet of Curtis Granderson and
plate umpire Paul Emmel immediately warned each side against any
trouble.

Maddon jawed from the dugout, got tossed and came out for a
protracted discussion with Emmel. Granderson crouched outside the
batter’s box during the dispute, watching the antics.

“That third inning was just atrocious,” Moore said.

The wild inning seemed to wreak havoc with the scoreboard, too.
As the Rays hit in the fourth, the score on the main board changed
from 5-0 to 4-0 to 2-0 to 0-0, Kuroda’s pitch count went in reverse
and innings were wiped off.

Nunez stole twice to set up Rodriguez’s sacrifice fly in the
fourth for a 6-1 lead. Robinson Cano followed with a routine fly
that left fielder Desmond Jennings lost in the sun and fell for a
double.

The Rays rallied in the sixth, helped by a couple of lucky
bounces.

Zobrist walked after his foul pop fell out of fill-in first
baseman Steve Pearce’s glove at the railing, then Evan Longoria’s
possible double-play grounder took a bad hop over Rodriguez’s
shoulder at third base for a two-run single.

NOTES: Rays RF Sam Fuld exited with a mild right hamstring
strain after grounding out to end the fifth. 2B Cano bobbled the
ball, recovered and threw out Fuld, who grabbed the back of his leg
after crossing the bag. Maddon expects Fuld to miss at least a day
or two. … Maddon has been ejected four times this year and 27
times as Tampa Bay’s manager. Bench coach Dave Martinez ran the
team with Maddon gone. Martinez recently interviewed for the job as
Houston’s manager. … Jeter has a 12-game hitting streak. He leads
the majors with 199 hits. … B.J. Upton of the Rays struck out all
four times up. … Rodriguez stole his 12th base in 13 tries this
year. … The Rays won the season series 10-8. … RHP Alex Cobb
(9-8, 4.26 ERA) and the Rays host RHP Aaron Cook (3-10, 5.18) and
Boston on Monday night. … New York teams went 2-0 against Tampa
Bay clubs on Sunday. There was a cheer in the stands as the Giants
beat the Buccaneers 41-34.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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