It was the eighth time the two aces have squared off (third this season) in their stellar careers, and Tampa Bay has won seven of the meetings. The Rays, who have won six of their last eight overall against the Yankees, are three games behind New York and Baltimore in the American League East and for the second AL Wild Card.
"Yankees, this ballpark, everything that was at stake -- he's done it before and he's done it versus Sabathia before," Rays manager Joe Maddon said of Price. "All of those things have to count. They have to count for us and they have to count when you evaluate him over the course of the season."
Price's victory was his AL-leading 18th of the season and came after the Cy Young candidate skipped his last start due to shoulder soreness. But he was sharp when the Rays needed him most, striking out six while scattering five hits and two earned runs over seven innings. He ended his night with emphasis, striking out two of the three batters he faced in the seventh before giving way to the Rays' pen.
"It felt good," Price said of his first start since Sept. 2. "My body felt good, my arm, my back, my legs, they all felt pretty strong."
With the victory, the Rays avoided matching a season-high four-game losing streak. New York, which entered having won its last pair, has not won three straight since Aug. 13-15. It was only Tampa Bay's fourth win in its last 17 one-run games.
"It was huge," said catcher Chris Gimenez, who doubled twice Friday night after entering the game with just one extra-base hit this season. "Coming off [being swept by the Orioles this week], we needed to take a couple out of here. Just for, mentally, our sake, it's big to have a couple wins here. All you can do is put yourself in the situation -- we know we can take care of our business now and hopefully we don't have to do anything crazy later."
New York got on the board in the second, when Russell Martin singled to lead off the inning and scored on a two-out single from Steve Pearce. But Tampa Bay made its hay in the fifth, when Gimenez got the hit parade started with a leadoff double. The following four hitters reached base against Sabathia as Gimenez, Carlos Pena and Elliot Johnson all scored to make it 3-1.
"Today should have been a day when I went out and dominated," Sabathia said. "I had good stuff. I was throwing the ball in well, my changeup was good. I just can't go 0-2 on a guy like Gimenez and give up a double and walk Carlos Pena. Stuff like that kills you during the game. No matter whether it's April, September, October, World Series, it kills you."
After Curtis Granderson hit his 38th homer of the season in the fifth to cut the lead to 3-2, Johnson added a run when he reached on a fielder's choice, stole second and scored on a Ben Zobrist single. Maddon appreciated the aggressive play in those situations, which haven't presented themselves often lately for the slumping Rays offense.
"Our guys under those circumstances, I don't want them to ever be afraid of making a mistake," he said. "Go, that's who we are, that's how we played. If they throw you out, so what? I want our guys to be bold."
That would also be it for Sabathia, who gave up six hits and four runs (all earned) in 6 2/3 innings. The two teams exchanged homers in the eighth, as B.J. Upton hit a solo shot of Cody Eppley and Alex Rodriguez hit a two-run bomb against Joel Peralta. Desmond Jennings scored one more Tampa Bay run in the ninth on an error by Eduardo Nunez.
Fernando Rodney came on for the five-out save, which was his Major League-best 43rd of the year and made him the all-time leader in saves in a single season against the Yankees (seven).
"We had two Cy Young candidates pitch tonight for us," Maddon said. "I thought they did an outstanding job, both what David did and how about what Fernando did? Two guys at the top of their game. It was really fun to watch."