Rays rumble by Yanks

Rays rumble by Yanks

ST. PETERSBURG -- While the Devil Rays have been less than remarkable on the road this season -- particularly in the second half, when they've won just two games -- the team has been tough inside the air-conditioned confines of Tropicana Field.

On Sunday, the Rays recorded an 11-4 win over the Yankees in front of a crowd of 31,422, which ensured the team of a winning record at home for the 2006 season.

One of manager Joe Maddon's goals upon taking the reins of the Rays prior to the season was to establish Tropicana Field -- aka "The Pit" -- as a home-field advantage and a place where opposing teams did not feel comfortable playing. To that end, the Rays made a good start toward achieving that goal in 2006.

By winning on Sunday, the Rays chalked up their 41st home win, with the final home game slated for Monday night at 7:15. The 2004 season is the only time the Rays have won 41 games at home in a season.

"It's big, because you really do want to play well above .500 at home and try to at least accomplish .500 on the road," Maddon said. "And with the building as it is, and it's unique, we really need to be able to take advantage of it. Part of it is the building and part of it is the fact the home crowd comes out. And it really does make a difference to a player.

"When you have a lot of folks in the stands on a nightly basis and you know they're on your side, it does matter. And I keep saying [it] -- it's incumbent upon us to get them here. But the combination of the uniqueness of the building and folks wanting us to win is truly going to help get us over the top here. And again, we have to earn that."

The downside to the Rays' home record has been the team's dismal road fortunes. Away from Tropicana Field, the Rays are 19-56, and they have won just two of 30 games since July 1.

The success at home "is making the [road] problems more obvious," Maddon said. "We've got to be able to handle ourselves here like we do here. The games at the Trop, it does not matter who we're playing, there's just a different vibe about our guys. And then conversely, it's the other way on the road. They just have to know it's another ballpark. ... Everything is the same, but we react differently [on the road]. And we have to be able to react the same. That's coming. That's forthcoming."

Rays left fielder Carl Crawford said the winning record at home tells the Rays one thing: "We've got to pretty much find a way to win on the road. We know we can win at home."

Sunday had a diverse cast of heroes. For starters, there was Brian Stokes, who became the fourth consecutive Rays pitcher to pitch five-plus innings. That's a significant fact since Rays starters had lasted five-plus innings just six times in their first 17 attempts in September.

"[It's a] dream come true [coming] against those guys," Stokes said. "That's a good hitting team over there."

Stokes allowed three earned runs in 5 1/3 innings to pick up his first Major League win.

But the win didn't come easy.

The Yankees loaded the bases with no outs in the second and scored on Hideki Matsui's sacrifice fly to go up 1-0, but they did not inflict any further damage, as Stokes retired Jorge Posada and Aaron Guiel on flyouts.

"I was out there and I was making some good pitches," Stokes said. "They hit some ground balls through the holes, and I was like, 'I need to keep making pitches here and let them beat me. [I need to] stay aggressive and go after them,' and it worked out for me."

Offensively, Ty Wigginton continued to swing a hot bat, hitting his third home run in his last four games and adding a two-run single; he has hit in safely in 24 of his last 31 games. Crawford put his wheels on display with two infield hits and a triple to drive in three runs. And Rocco Baldelli doubled to start the Rays' six-run fourth and had a two-run single in the Rays' five-run sixth.

Sunday's win against the Yankees gave the Rays back-to-back wins against the American League East champs for the first time since winning four straight Aug. 16-Sept. 6 last season. And while the Yankees are headed for yet another postseason, and the Rays are looking at another last-place finish, Sunday's win will go a long way toward fueling the young Rays as they attempt to improve their lot in 2007.

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