Howell leads Rays past Yanks

Howell leads Rays past Yanks

ST. PETERSBURG -- Randy Johnson just brings out the best in the Devil Rays, and in particular, J.P. Howell on Saturday night.

Howell and his teammates could do no wrong during an 8-0 Rays victory over the Yankees that seemed to sway a partisan Yankees crowd of 33,492 at Tropicana Field to the home team's side for at least one night.

Howell started for the Rays and held the Yankees scoreless for seven innings, allowing just three hits, to pick up his first win since coming to the Rays in a June 20 trade that sent outfielder Joey Gathright and Minor League infielder Fernando Cortez to the Royals.

Like many left-handers of his generation, Howell grew up admiring Johnson, so he more than understood the challenge he faced Saturday night.

"You know you don't have a lot of leg room when [Johnson] is on the bump," Howell said. "You try not to think about that too much. ... I think I was just in control of myself a little more. I've been asking questions trying to learn and it showed a little tonight."

Rays manager Joe Maddon complemented Howell for utilizing all of his pitches while remaining in control.

"His fastball command was great," Maddon said. "Threw a lot of strikes."

Howell complimented his catcher, Josh Paul.

"I shook [Paul off] I think once," Howell said. "He was a big factor in the way things went tonight."

Howell, who had not won a Major League game in almost a year (last win was Sept. 26 at Minnesota) was pleased to have his first Rays win under his belt.

"It took forever," Howell said. "I'm glad I did it before the season was over."

Johnson took his first loss since Aug. 23 at Seattle as his career record against the Rays fell to 3-5 with a 5.43 ERA -- including his lone start against the Rays this season prior to Saturday night when he lasted just 3 1/3 innings on July 29 at Yankee Stadium while surrendering nine runs in a 19-6 Rays win.

"I got my work in I guess, but I wasn't pleased with the outcome," Johnson said.

The Big Unit demonstrated class when he saluted Howell's performance.

"You can tip your hat to Howell today," Johnson said. "He pitched extremely well."

Leading Saturday night's hit parade for the Rays were Rocco Baldelli, Ty Wigginton and B.J. Upton.

Ben Zobrist and Tomas Perez cobbled back-to-back singles off Johnson with one out in the third before Baldelli doubled to right-center field to score both runners and put the Rays up, 2-0.

Wigginton hit his team-leading 22nd home run in the fourth inning and added a two-run single in the seventh.

Wigginton "loves the moment," Maddon said. "I know he's not going to cower [from] it."

Upton hit his first Major League home run since Sept. 17, 2004, in the sixth inning off Johnson. The blast came on a 1-2 pitch from Johnson and cleared the wall in center field to put the Rays up 5-0.

"It had the sound," said Maddon of Upton's blast. "That deep sound. I knew it was gone. He and [hitting coach Steve Henderson] have been working on getting more from his bottom half to go with his great hands."

Upton seemed pleased with the results of his hard work on Saturday night.

"I've definitely been working hard to get my swing back," Upton said. "It's slowly working. ... [Johnson] had been tough all night and he finally left a pitch up."

The shutout over the Yankees was the Rays' fourth against New York and their first since Sept. 25, 2001, while the victory snapped a five-game losing streak to the Yankees. In the process, the Rays got an idea of what Tropicana Field could be like if, and when, the Rays become a winner. Raucous "Let's go Yankees" cheers evolved into cheers for the home team by the end of the game.

"We have to tip the Pit in our favor," Maddon said, referring to his nickname for Tropicana Field. "Games like that tip the Pit. It's incumbent upon us to tip it in our favor. We have to win to get that many people here on a consistent basis."

Upton smiled when it was noted to him that some of the Yankees fans had changed their allegiance by the end of the game.

"Maybe a little bit," he said.

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