Yanks over Tampa Bay thanks to Overbay

Two outs, nobody on base and watch out for Lyle Overbay. That is pretty much how the Yankees came up with a 4-3, 11-inning victory over the Rays Saturday. Oh, sure, there were plenty of other factors that contributed to the thrilling, come-from-behind triumph, but it was a pair of at-bats by Overbay that made the greatest difference in the game that put Tampa Bay’s record back to .500 at 24-24 and pushed the Rays six games behind the 30-18 Yankees.

Overbay was a key figure in Fernando Rodney blowing his fifth save in 14 opportunities this year, a far cry from the 2012 season when the Rays closer had the best conversion rate in the majors at 96 percent on 48-for-50. Rodney entered the ninth with a 3-1 lead that Tampa Bay had acquired partially against the Yankees’ vaunted bullpen and got the first two outs of the inning.

Rodney never did get that third out. Overbay drew a walk on a 3-2 changeup, the pitch that would continue to let Rodney down that inning. After Overbay moved to second base on a balk by Rodney, Brennan Boesch, fresh up from Triple A Scranton, batted for catcher Austin Romine and poked a changeup inside the left field line for a double that scored Overbay.

Brett Gardner followed with a single to center off yet another ineffective changeup. Boesch made it to the plate with the tying run with a nice slide on a close play. The way Rodney was going he might not have ever gotten out of that inning if Gardner had not been thrown out at second base trying to steal for the final out. Gardner had made a base running gaffe by not advancing to second base on center fielder Desmond Jennings throw home, which would have negated the need for an attempted steal in that spot with Robinson Cano at the plate.

Ivan Nova, who was activated from the disabled list Friday, made his first relief appearance in two seasons and did quite a dance in the bottom of the 10th. The Rays loaded the bases with one out on a couple of singles and a walk, but Nova struck out .344-hitting James Loney on a nasty curve and got Matt Joyce on a grounder to second to keep the Yankees alive.

Then in another two-out, nobody-on situation in the 11th, Overbay made a great swing on a 96-mph fastball from Josh Lueke and crushed his eighth home run, to right field. That triggered a call to Mariano Rivera, who showed Rodney and everyone else in the Tropicana Field crowd of 25,874 how saving a ballgame is done with a 1-2-3 inning featuring two strikeouts. Mo’s conversion rate remained 100 percent at 18-for-18.

Nova got the winning decision in relief in another ensemble effort from the bullpen, the area of the game that most separates the Yankees from the Rays. The Rodney walk of Overbay was an example of Tampa Bay bullpen’s problem this season. Rays relievers have walked 73 batters in 133 2/3 innings whereas the Yanks’ pen has issued 52 walks in 148 1/3 innings. The Yankees’ relief corps is 10-4 with 20 saves and a 3.16 ERA while the Rays’ pen is 6-11 with 10 saves and a 4.92 ERA.

The Yankees were not able to hang an ‘L’ on unbeaten Rays starter Matt Moore (8-0), but they did the next best thing, which was to stay close in the game until he departed, which was after the sixth inning with the score 1-1. Rookie Vidal Nuno kept pace with Moore until the seventh when he gave up a leadoff hit.

Shawn Kelley and Boone Logan could not prevent Tampa Bay from taking the lead at that point, 3-1, but Preston Claiborne kept the inning from getting too messy. The rookie righthander came into the game with runners on first and second, none out and two runs in and got a force play and two strikeouts.

Ichiro Suzuki made a dazzling, sliding, game-saving catch in right field of a sinking liner by Yunel Escobar in the bottom of the ninth that spared David Robertson, who had started the inning with a walk to Joyce, who was sacrificed to second. Joyce almost surely would have scored on Escobar’s ball had Ichiro not gobbled it.

Suzuki also had two hits. Travis Hafner got the Yankees off to a good start against Moore with a two-out, RBI single in the first inning, but it would be a long time before they scored again and in the most difficult of circumstances – two out, nobody on base and down to their last strike. Victories do not come sweeter than this.

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