ST. PETERSBURG -- Alex Rodriguez delivered a game-tying, two-out double and Slade Heathcott launched a three-run homer off Brad Boxberger as the Yankees rallied for four ninth-inning runs and stunned the Rays, 4-1, on Monday at Tropicana Field.
The Yankees were down to their final out in the ninth as Brett Gardner walked and stole second base uncontested. Rodriguez ripped a drive up the gap in right-center field and, after an intentional walk to Brian McCann, the 24-year-old Heathcott slugged his second career home run over the left-field wall as the Yankees' bench spilled onto the turf in celebration.
"You get in the box, you're trying to crush a ball," Heathcott said. "You're trying to get a base hit, trying to score runs. Luckily, I think the adrenaline took over there. I didn't really think much of anything but see the ball."
The late rally off Boxberger helped the Yankees close within three games behind the idle Blue Jays in the American League East chase. Logan Forsythe had knocked home the game's first run with an eighth-inning double off Justin Wilson.
"No question, today is probably the biggest game of the year," Rodriguez said. "Hopefully 24 hours from now I'll stand right here and say it's the biggest win of the year. That's kind of the point we're at right now."
Rays starter Erasmo Ramirez held the Yankees hitless into the eighth inning in a gem of a performance. Carlos Beltran broke up Ramirez's bid with a shot to first base that was immediately scored as a hit, as Ramirez completed 7 2/3 innings, walking two and striking out six.
Making his second start since returning from the disabled list, Yankees starter CC Sabathia turned in one of his best outings of the season, blanking Tampa Bay on three hits over 6 2/3 innings. He was relieved by Wilson, who pitched out of trouble in the seventh but surrendered the decisive hits in the eighth.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Mahtook steals a run: Rays right fielder Mikie Mahtook stole a run with one out in the seventh when McCann hit a ball to the wall in right. Standing on second base, Gardner broke for home thinking that McCann's hit would land. But Mahtook leaped at the wall and made the grab. He then rebounded and threw a strike to shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera covering at second to complete the inning-ending double play. More >
Sabathia deals: As sharp as Ramirez was, Sabathia matched him with zeros into the seventh inning, throwing a season-high 111 pitches and earning a standing ovation from the pro-Yankee contingent at the Trop. The big lefty looked terrific, striking out six while issuing just two walks. Sabathia pitched out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the second inning, getting Kevin Kiermaier to ground into a fielder's choice and J.P. Arencibia to fly out. More >
"I thought his sinker was tremendous tonight," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "It just had a lot of movement on it. I thought he used his breaking ball extremely well. To pitch out of that bases-loaded jam with one out, he came up big for us and gave us a ton of distance."
Close call: Ramirez came six outs away from stepping into the history books as the second pitcher in Rays history to throw a no-hitter, but Beltran had other ideas, ripping a single off first baseman Richie Shaffer's glove for the Yankees' first hit. Matt Garza threw the only no-hitter in Rays history on July 26, 2010, leading the Rays to a 5-0 victory over the Tigers at Tropicana Field. More >
Slade's got it made: Heathcott entered the game in the eighth inning, replacing Rico Noel, who had pinch-run for Beltran following his eighth-inning single. Heathcott had a brief opportunity earlier this season with the big league club, playing six games in late May before being sidelined by a strained right quadriceps. This marked his first opportunity to get on the field in September. The Yanks' first-round pick in the 2009 Draft, Heathcott's first big league homer came on May 25 off the Royals' Greg Holland. More >
"He was ready for the fastball and he put a great swing on it," Gardner said. "He hasn't been playing at all since he came back up here recently, but he's been working hard and staying prepared during games, waiting for his time. And it was a big time tonight."
"Any walk's a bad walk in my mind, and definitely a four-pitch walk to Gardner with Alex behind him is definitely not a good walk, and it shows." -- Boxberger, on issuing a costly two-out walk to Gardner
"Just tremendous. You get caught up. I become a fan when you're watching a kid with so much talent. A big, signature Yankee moment for him. It's a moment he'll never forget." -- Rodriguez, on Heathcott
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Rays dropped to 5-18 in games decided in the ninth inning or later and they fell to 64-4 when leading after eight innings.
WHAT'S NEXT Yankees: Right-hander Adam Warren (6-6, 3.29 ERA) will make his first start since June 25 during Tuesday's 7:10 p.m. ET game against the Rays as he rejoins the rotation, taking the spot of the injured Nathan Eovaldi. Warren began the year in the rotation and went 5-5 with a 3.59 ERA in 14 starts before being bumped to the bullpen. He is expected to throw about 65 pitches.
Rays:Jake Odorizzi (7-8, 3.21 ERA) will make his 25th start. The righty picked up his first win since July 28 on Wednesday when he held the Tigers scoreless on six hits and a walk through six innings. He is 2-4 with a 5.14 ERA in eight career appearances (seven starts) against the Yankees.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.