Bronx, NY – Zoilo Almonte went 3-for-4 with a solo home run in a dazzling first major league start that helped the New York Yankees earn a 6-2 decision over the Tampa Bay Rays.
Almonte's efforts, combined with a solid performance from David Phelps and shutdown work from the Yankees' bullpen, enabled New York to avenge an 8-3 defeat to the Rays in Thursday's opener of this four-game AL East series and win for only the third time in 10 games.
Phelps (5-4) worked around eight hits to limit Tampa Bay to two runs over 5 2/3 innings, with four Yankee relievers holding the Rays scoreless over the final 3 1/3 frames. Mariano Rivera finished off the victory with a 1-2-3 ninth for save No. 26 on the season.
Lyle Overbay added two hits, including a run-scoring single, for New York.
Roberto Hernandez (4-8) took the loss after allowing all five Yankee runs on nine hits over a seven-inning stint.
Ben Zobrist and Luke Scott each finished 2-for-4 with an RBI for Tampa Bay, which has now dropped seven of 10 as well.
Each team was able to manufacture a pair of runs over the first 3 1/2 innings of play before the Yankees moved in front to stay in the bottom of the fourth.
New York strung together three straight singles off Hernandez to load the bases with none out, with Jayson Nix then bouncing into a double play as the go-ahead run crossed the plate. David Adams followed with a squibber to third in which Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria threw wildly to first. The play was ruled a hit that brought in Overbay from third for a 4-2 advantage.
"They fought back and got the lead back for me, and I really didn't want to give it back that last time," said Phelps.
Almonte crushed a Hernandez fastball into the home bullpen in the sixth to pad the Yankees' margin, and the Rays managed just one hit over their final three at-bats as Rivera and the relief corps successfully protected the lead.
"It's frustrating," said Rays outfielder Matt Joyce. "Some nights you feel good and see the ball so well and other nights it's a grind. You're not always going to feel great, but you've got to find a way."
New York's struggling offense quickly made an impact in this one, as Brett Gardner dropped down a bunt base hit to begin the bottom of the first and took third on Ichiro Suzuki's hit-and-run single to right before coming home on a Robinson Cano sacrifice fly.
The Rays tied it when Zobrist delivered a two-out infield hit in the top of the third that scored Yunel Escobar, who opened the frame with a single and made it to third on a pair of groundouts.
Austin Romine's leadoff double in the bottom of the inning helped the Yankees go back ahead, with the catcher advancing on a Gardner sacrifice in front of Suzuki's tapper near the mound that was enough to knock in a run.
Scott singled in James Loney in the Rays' half of the fourth to knot the score at 2-2, and Tampa Bay later loaded the bases with just one out. Phelps was able to prevent further damage, however, by getting Joyce on a short pop-up to left and Desmond Jennings on a fly ball to center.
"I thought the important inning was when he had the bases loaded [with] one out and didn't give up any runs after that," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of Phelps. "I thought that was the inning that changed the game."
Rivera's 26 saves ties Baltimore's Jim Johnson and Pittsburgh's Jason Grilli for the most in the majors this year ... The Yankees designated shortstop Reid Brignac for assignment prior to the game while purchasing the contract of infielder Alberto Gonzalez from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre. New York also acquired utility man Brent Lillibridge from the Cubs for future considerations ... Hernandez fell to 1-5 on the road this season and has now lost six straight starts against the Yankees since last beating them while with Cleveland on April 18, 2009 ... New York improved to 23-0 this season when putting five or more runs and 30-5 when scoring first, both tops in the majors.