Rays drop seesaw battle to Yankees

Rays drop seesaw battle to Yanks

ST. PETERSBURG -- One play stood out in Sunday afternoon's 7-6 Yankees win over the Devil Rays, and it had Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon sounding like a Kennedy scholar debating conspiracy theories after the game.

A sellout crowd of 36,048 at Tropicana Field watched an entertaining seesaw contest that had three lead changes before the Yankees claimed their third win of the four-game series against the Rays.

Meanwhile, the Rays lost for the 16th time in their last 18 games to move deeper into last place in the American League East, which might have been avoided had one particular play not occurred in the fifth.

Starter Edwin Jackson found himself in the midst of one of the better games he's pitched since coming to the Rays in a trade prior to the 2006 season. Staked to a 3-0 lead, the 23-year-old right-hander put his best foot forward leading up to the fifth, holding the Yankees scoreless over the first four innings.

Robinson Cano then singled to lead off the fifth to bring Andy Phillips to the plate. The Yankees first baseman hit a wicked line drive to center field that resembled a well-struck 3-iron. Center fielder B.J. Upton moved aggressively to make the play, only to watch in horror as the ball twisted away from him. By the time Upton retrieved the ball, Phillips stood on third with a triple and the Yankees had their first run.

"I turned around and saw it," Jackson said. "I don't think I've ever seen a ball do that before. I mean, at the last minute the ball comes out knuckling, and at the last minute looked like a sudden wind change -- and there's no wind in a dome -- so how it happened I have no clue."

Upton sounded equally miffed.

"I thought it was a pretty routine play," Upton said. "At the last second it took a dive the other way. It was tough to tell. It looked like it was fading toward right field, and when it got to me, it took a hard left. I've never seen anything like it."

Maddon cited a different factor for the hit that led to the four-run Yankees uprising.

"Again, the ball hooked, and that's all the residue of maple bats," Maddon said. "That's the only kind of bat you see the ball do that with. These bats are exploding all over the place, they're dangerous, and I think they impart unusual spin on the ball, or the lack of that. The maple bat explosions all over the infield, I think something needs to be done about that ...

"It was just one of the unusual events that occur from those bats on occasion. That was not [Upton's] fault. Just watch the way that ball reacted. It just made a left turn, like a slider."

Maddon was asked if he had protested about the use of maple bats in the past.

"I'm doing it today," Maddon said. "I mean, they're exploding all over the infield. Somebody is going to get hurt, whether it is a player or a fan. I mean the explosions aren't the ash bats ... maple bats that are exploding everywhere."

The rest of the fifth saw Wil Nieves double to score Phillips, and one out later, Derek Jeter hit a 1-1 Jackson slider into the right-field stands for a two-run homer to put the Yankees up 4-3.

Carlos Pena's two-run homer in the seventh off Ron Villone put the Rays back on top, 5-4, but the Yankees quickly struck back in the eighth when Cano's sacrifice fly scored Alex Rodriguez. Phillips added an RBI single and Jeter an infield single with the bases loaded to put the Yankees up 7-5.

Ty Wigginton's RBI double in the eighth cut the Yankees' lead to 7-6 and finish the scoring for the afternoon.

While Sunday's game had some exciting moments, the Rays' futility on the afternoon could be illustrated by the fact that every inning on offense contained at least one of the following: a runner left on third base, a double play or a runner thrown out at a base other than first.

Still, the four-game series brought entertaining and competitive games, along with the first time in team history that Tropicana Field had seen back-to-back sellouts.

"I thought they were great games," Maddon said. "There were some breaks that went against us, but that happens. I just thought both teams played it hard and they won it."

Maddon added one last thought on maple, his least favorite wood: "It works well in furniture and floors."

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