NEW YORK – For a night, the Yankees' pennant push was secondary.
"There's not too many monuments here." captain Derek Jeter said. "That's what you remember the most. I mean, the game's important, but it was a special night out there."
Jeter and his teammates helped honor George Steinbrenner with a monumental win.
After the Yankees unveiled a huge monument to their late owner, Jeter singled home the go-ahead run in the sixth inning. Curtis Granderson followed with his second home run of the night, a three-run drive that helped New York to an 8-6 victory Monday over the second-place Tampa Bay Rays in a key AL East matchup.
Winning the opener of a four-game series that started its final homestand, New York (91-59) opened a 1½-game lead over the Rays (89-60) and cut Tampa Bay's advantage in the season series — the first tiebreaker for the division title — to 8-7. New York lowered its magic number for clinching a playoff berth to five.
"His No. 1 priority was for us to win," Jeter said. "We're happy we were able to do that."
Steinbrenner, the team's owner from 1973 until his death on July 13 at age 80, joined Miller Huggins (unveiled in 1932), Lou Gehrig (1941), Babe Ruth (1949), Mickey Mantle (1996) and Joe DiMaggio (1999) as the only individuals with monuments behind the center-field fence at new Yankee Stadium. Steinbrenner's 7-by-5-foot, 760-pound monument of bronze atop a granite base is behind the quintet of 2-by-3-foot monuments honoring the pinstriped famous five.
Jeter likely will be honored there one day, too. With two runs, he tied Mantle for third on the Yankees list at 1,677, trailing only Ruth (1,959) and Gehrig (1,888).
After Tampa Bay rallied from a four-run deficit, Jeter's hit off Matt Garza (14-9) followed Brett Gardner's leadoff infield single and Francisco Cervelli's hit-and-run single through the vacated hole at shortstop. With New York ahead 5-4, Granderson greeted Grant Balfour with a three-run homer and tied his career high with five RBIs.
Granderson, a first-year Yankee, thought the occasion made the victory special.
"A more meaningful one," he said. "It's definitely that much more important."
Eighteen of Granderson's 21 homers have come off right-handers. Rays manager Joe Maddon said he miscommunicated with his bullpen and, as a result, didn't have a left-hander warmed up.
"That was my fault," Maddon confessed. "All of a sudden, I'm giving the ball to the pitcher, and it doesn't look like Randy Choate."
Chad Gaudin (1-4) won in relief of rookie Ivan Nova, who allowed three runs, three hits and two walks in 5-2 3 innings. Mariano Rivera rebounded from Sunday's blown save at Baltimore to get his 32nd in 36 chances. Evan Longoria had a two-out single and Rivera hit Dan Johnson with a pitch before retiring Matt Joyce on a groundout with two on.
Garza gave up seven runs — five earned — eight hits and four walks in 5 1-3 innings.
"I didn't think I threw the ball that bad," he said.
Garza has allowed 17 earned runs in his last three starts, raising his ERA from 3.46 to 4.01, after giving up 17 earned runs in his previous 11 outings.
"The stuff is good. I see him trying to do too much in certain situations," Maddon said.
Coming off a 3-6 trip, New York built its early lead on Granderson's two-run homer in the third and a pair of unearned runs in the fifth after second baseman Ben Zobrist fumbled Cervelli's leadoff grounder. Alex Rodriguez hit a bases-loaded sacrifice fly, and Garza walked Nick Swisher on five pitches with the bases loaded.
Nova couldn't hold the 4-0 lead, allowing the first four batters to reach in sixth. A catcher's interference call on Cervelli with Carl Crawford at the plate drove in the first run, Longoria grounded into a run-scoring double play, Johnson greeted Boone Logan with an RBI single and Gaudin walked B.J. Upton with the bases loaded before Jason Bartlett's inning-ending flyout.
Steinbrenner's type of game.
"Grittiness. Tough innings. Tough at-bats. Both teams playing hard," Girardi said. "I think this is something he would have really liked."
NOTES: Steinbrenner's granddaughter, Haley Swindal, fulfilled a promise to her grandfather to one day sing at Yankee Stadium by performing "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch. Frank Sinatra Jr. sang the national anthem before the game. ... Mark Teixeira, Rodriguez and Robinson Cano combined to go 0 for 13. ... New York may call up RHP Andrew Brackman.