By defeating the Yankees in front of an announced crowd of 20,178 at Tropicana Field, Piniella's baby-faced Rays gave their manager his 1,500th managerial victory to put him in the elite company of Joe Torre and Fred Clarke as the only three in Major League history to have 1,500 wins as a manager and 1,500 career hits as a player.
To commemorate Piniella's win, Rays players ambushed him in the clubhouse with a beer shower and a shaving cream pie.
"I got hit with some shaving cream," said Piniella with a smile. "I appreciate what the players did. [1,500] is a lot of wins. A lot of great players I've managed ... I thank all the players. They're the ones that have done it, not me. I'm honored."
And the Rays accomplished their victory in a style reminiscent of the team's recent play.
The Rays trailed, 6-5, when they came to bat in the eighth. Aubrey Huff reached base on a throwing error by Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano, which allowed him to reach second base. With a host of right-handed hitters to follow, Tanyon Sturtze took over for left-hander Alan Embree.
Jonny Gomes greeted the Yankees' right-hander with a single to left field that was hit too hard for Huff to score, leaving runners at first and third with no outs.
Alex Gonzalez, whose two-run homer in the sixth cut the Yankees' lead to 5-4, followed with a ground-rule double to tie the score at 6.
With Toby Hall at bat, Sturtze uncorked a wild pitch and Gomes stormed home, sliding head-first with what turned out to be the winning run.
"Earlier in the at-bat he bounced one, so I became more alert," Gomes said. "I know he throws a split. And splits are tough and it was the exact opposite, fastball above [Hall's] head."
Piniella complimented Gomes.
"That was a heck of a play because they executed it perfectly," Piniella said. "[Gomes] plays hard and he has fun playing. He's fun to watch."
Gomes is the poster child for the Rays resurgence in the second half that has seen the team compile a 19-12 mark since the All-Star break.
"If I was going, I was going to be safe," Gomes said. "It might have been close, but if I was going, I was going to be safe. I couldn't afford to be out there."
Danys Baez pitched the ninth to preserve the Rays' victory and earn his 26th save of the season.
"It just shows, the Yankees, with their history and with their payroll and with their All-Stars, they're not bulletproof," said Gomes. "In between the lines, there's no salaries and there's no world champions. It's nine on nine, plus your bullpen and your bench. And it just shows anyone can win."
Mistakes tend to magnify against a team like the Yankees, a lesson reiterated to the Rays in the fifth inning.
Mark Hendrickson had a 2-1 lead with two outs in the fifth. The Rays' starter had retired nine in a row when Derek Jeter hit a chopper to first baseman Eduardo Perez. The veteran first baseman fielded the ball and looked to Hendrickson. But Hendrickson didn't cover first, leaving Perez to a race to the bag, which he lost.
"I pulled up," Hendrickson said. "My fault."
Hendrickson compounded his mistake by walking Cano, who had walked just 12 times in 364 at-bats entering Wednesday night's game.
Gary Sheffield then completed the lesson on why it's not good to make mistakes against the Yankees when he slammed a 3-1 pitch into the left-field stands. And just like that, the calm seas had turned turbulent for the Rays.
Tino Martinez added an RBI single in the sixth to push New York's lead to 5-2, before Gonzalez's two-run homer off Yankees reliever Aaron Small.
"That was just one hit and we kept fighting back," Gonzalez said. "We got things going, but there were contributions from guys all across the lineup."
Carl Crawford's RBI triple in the seventh tied the game at 5. But the Rays couldn't get Crawford home, and when pinch-hitter Julio Lugo missed a safety squeeze, Crawford slipped on his way back to third and got picked off.
"I just took a chance and it backfired," Crawford said.
Jorge Posada singled to right field in the top of the eighth to score Tony Womack and give the Yankees a 6-5 lead.