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Rays use muscle, miscue to top Yankees

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 07:35 PM
ST. PETERSBURG -

Officially, it went down as an error, that ball Elliot Johnson ripped up the first base line in the seventh inning that scored the go-ahead run Monday night against the Yankees, and that meant Johnson was not credited for a game-winning hit or RBI.

And guess what? Johnson doesn't care.

When you're scuffling like the Tampa Bay Rays have during the past month, you'll take anything that leads to a victory.

"I really don't care if it's a hit by pitch, a balk, it doesn't matter. A win's a win," Johnson said. "We're going to take it."

The Rays opened a three-game series against the visiting Yankees with a 4-3 win in front of 21,742 at Tropicana Field for only their second victory in their past eight games.

It was also their eighth straight win at the Trop against the Yankees, who lost for just the sixth time in their last 23 games.

The win was a the result of a solid outing by rookie Matt Moore, who survived a shaky first inning to even his record at 5-5, solo home runs by B.J. Upton and Carlos Peña, and a shutdown performance by relievers Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney.

It also came courtesy of a game-winning rally that included a pinch-hit walk by Sean Rodriguez, a wild pitch, a pinch-hit double by Brooks Conrad and a three-base error by Yankee first baseman Mark Teixeira on Johnson's sharply hit ball that appeared likely to bounce off the first base bag.

It didn't, though; it clipped Teixeira's glove as it headed to the right field corner, giving the Gold Glover his first error of the season.

"I didn't get the game-winning RBI. It's irrelevant," Johnson said. "I got the game-winning advance. Anything that starts with 'game-winning' is OK with me. I don't care how it happens. We won."

The first-place Yankees arrived in town with a 7 1/2 game lead over the Rays, who dropped to fourth in the division thanks to a terrible month of June. Manager Joe Maddon downplayed the importance of the series, but players saw it differently.

"Every win for us now is big," Moore said. "We haven't exactly been knocking them down and getting a whole lot of Ws, especially against these guys. This is obviously a great start to the series."

Also, there is the way the Rays won the game. They fell behind early, inched back to tie the score, fell behind again in the seventh inning and did just enough in the bottom of the inning to rally for the win.

"It's nice for us to be on the winning end," Johnson said.

Moore allowed two runs in the first inning, but limited the damage thanks to an inning-ending double play.

Of course, had right fielder Hideki Matsui not overrun a towering fly ball by Teixeira, Moore might have escaped the inning by allowing only one run. Matsui would leave the game in the second inning with tightness in his left hamstring.

Derek Jeter got things started for New York with a double to right-center field on the second pitch of the game. He scored when Teixeira's fly ball eluded Matsui and fell in for a double.

The Yankees made it 2-0 on a single to center field by Robinson Cano.

Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey paid Moore a visit on the mound, and Moore responded by getting Nick Swisher to hit into the double play. That began a run of three inning-ending double plays turned by the Rays immediately after Hickey visited Moore on the mound.

"I think after the third one I said (to Hickey), 'If I get another guy on, would you mind coming out?" Moore said.

The Rays were able to tie the score at 2 thanks to Upton's solo homer in the fourth and Peña's shot in the sixth.

But Moore began the seventh inning by walking No. 9 hitter catcher Chris Stewart and paid for it when Stewart took a trip around the bases thanks to a wild pitch and two fly balls to give the Yankees a 3-2 lead.

Then the Rays produced a rally that led to what Maddon called "more like a Rays kind of win - everybody contributed."

Sean Rodriguez was called on to face the left-handed Boone Logan despite having just five hits in his last 26 at-bats against lefties, and drew a walk.

One out later, Brooks Conrad, with zero hits in his last 24 pinch-hit appearances, was sent up to pinch-hit for Will Rhymes and lined the ball down the right field line for a double, scoring Rodriguez.

"It was fun," Conrad said. "It was a tough situation to be up there against a tough pitcher (David Robertson) that I had never faced. I got a couple of tips from (Derek Shelton), and I knew he had a really good cutter.

"I just want to do my best to be on time and not be late and get the head out there so that the cutter wouldn't get in one my hands. It still did a little bit, but I was able to get enough barrel on it to get it out there and get the run in."

Johnson followed and ripped a ball down the first base line, where it nicked Teixeira's mitt on its way to the right field corner. Conrad scored the go-ahead run and Johnson raced to third on what was ruled a three-base error.

"I take a lot of pride saving runs for our team, but I gave one back," Teixeira said. "After it goes by, you go, 'What just happened?' I didn't even get leather on it. Usually you can knock it down or something when it takes weird bounce.

"I tried to look at the video, but I couldn't even tell what happened. I don't know if it hit the back of the base or the chalk or what. I still have to knock it down, that's the disappointing thing."

Maddon, of course, wasn't going to complain.

"The only way that happens is if you don't quit. You give up and it comes back to you," Maddon said. "The moment you start to believe, 'Here we go again. Whoa is me,' victim's complex, then it piles on. You can't permit that to happen.

"You have to keep fighting, trying to do the right thing and eventually baseball rewards you."

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