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Rays pour on homers, pull within 1 1/2 of Yanks

Rays pour on homers, pull within 1 1/2 of Yanks

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NEW YORK -- During Wednesday night's two-hour, 11-minute rain delay, Joe Maddon could have worried about his pitching. Instead, he listened to the team's traveling secretary recount old Rays stories, keeping everyone in stitches.

"A lot of old Devil Rays stories were being told that were absolutely hysterical," Maddon said.

Jeremy Hellickson afforded Maddon the peace of mind to sit and chuckle at Jeff Ziegler's act. Maddon knew his starter, Wade Davis, was finished despite having thrown just 2 1/3 innings, because the delay lasted too long for him to return. So Hellickson became the pitcher to carry the load.

Hellickson's pitching and a productive night by the offense led the Rays to a 7-2 win over the Yankees at Yankee Stadium with 46,986 watching.

By winning, Tampa Bay (90-61) closed the gap with first-place New York (92-60) to 1 1/2 games for the top spot in the American League East. The victory also reduced the Rays' magic number to make the playoffs to five games as the Red Sox beat the Orioles, 6-1.

Perhaps Maddon should have been more concerned about Hellickson. After all, Tampa Bay only led 1-0 and New York already had the first two games of the series under its belts. In addition, Hellickson would be pitching in Yankee Stadium for the first time in his career, a task that has rattled many a young pitcher. Maddon never hesitated about using Hellickson, and he did not worry about the Rays' top prospect getting the job done, either, particularly where nerves were concerned, given the fact Hellickson is a true flat-liner.

"Hellickson did such a wonderful job coming in like he did," Maddon said. "During the rain delay, I walked up and said, 'You're in there.' And I think his pulse jumped maybe one point. And then you watch him out there chewing his gum, making his pitches. It's really neat to see a kid that inexperienced being able to handle a moment as well as he does."

The Rays got off to a good start, when Evan Longoria's sacrifice fly off A.J. Burnett in the first inning put them up, 1-0. Davis did not allow a hit through the first two innings before Curtis Granderson drew a walk with one out in the third. Then the game had to be stopped due to rain. When the game resumed, there stood Hellickson on the mound at Yankee Stadium.

After inheriting a 1-1 count to Francisco Cervelli, Hellickson struck him out swinging. He then struck out Brett Gardner swinging to end the inning.

"It went good, a few bad pitches, but all in all, I felt like I threw pretty good," Hellickson said. "... It was nice to get out there and help the guys win and get back in this thing."

In the fifth, Carl Crawford singled off Dustin Moseley to drive home John Jaso, giving the Rays a 2-0 lead. Lance Berkman answered in the bottom of the fifth with his first home run since joining the Yankees at the July 31 Trade Deadline. The Big Puma hit a 1-2 pitch from Hellickson over the wall in right field to cut the lead to a run.

Unlike many recent games, Tampa Bay's offense did not sack the bats after the early lead Wednesday night. Dan Johnson led off the sixth with his seventh home run of the season, which came on a 2-1 pitch from Moseley to give the Rays a two-run cushion.

Hellickson surrendered an RBI single to Alex Rodriguez in the sixth, but Crawford and Longoria hit back-to-back home runs off Chad Gaudin with two outs in the seventh to put the Rays up, 5-2, and they would add a run in both the eighth and the ninth for the final margin.

Hellickson allowed two earned runs on three hits in 3 1/3 innings, walking none and striking out five to pick up his fourth win of the season.

The pitching remained strong after Hellickson's departure as Randy Choate, Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit and Chad Qualls covered the final 3 1/3 innings without allowing any runs.

The Rays had 12 hits on the night, in addition to drawing seven walks.

"Every win from here on out is big," Crawford said. "We'll take them how they come. Seems like it's tough to get wins right now, so we'll take them any way they come. ... It was nice to see us hold that lead and not let them come back."

The Yankees acknowledged the shift in momentum.

"I thought [the rain delay] killed [the Yankees' momentum], I really did," Berkman said. "I felt like the matchup was Wade Davis and A.J., two guys that are pretty good, and then it ends up being the bullpens. ... It's a different kind of game. To me, it was a totally different kind of feel. The crowd was gone, it wasn't the electricity that we had the first two nights. It was a shame that we had that long rain delay."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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