ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Six straight wins. Eleven in a row at home. First place in the AL East.
The Tampa Bay Rays realize it's only mid-May, but they're having a ball during the best start in franchise history.
"I've been around a long time. It's early, but I love the way we're doing it by not giving in to anyone," veteran closer Troy Percival said last night after Gabe Gross singled with no outs in the 11th inning to drive in the first run Mariano Rivera has allowed all season in a 2-1 victory over the New York Yankees.
"We're winning close games against good teams," Percival said. "The way we're fighting, you can see it's not a fluke."
Cliff Floyd began the 11th with a single and pinch runner Jonny Gomes stole second before Gross delivered the winner up the middle on a 1-1 pitch. Rivera (0-1) had not allowed a run in 14 previous appearances.
J.P. Howell (3-0) pitched two scoreless innings for the win, the Rays' 15th in 20 games. Tampa Bay matched its longest winning streak of the season at six games and has won a club-record 11 in a row at home.
Even sweeter, they're a half-game ahead of the Red Sox in the AL East, the first time the Rays have sat alone atop the division standings beyond the first week of a season.
"It's great to be here, and a big part of it is the confidence derived from it," manager Joe Maddon said, adding that he thinks his young team has the capability of remaining in the race. "Nobody's cocky or complacent. Everybody's coming to the ballpark with the right attitude."
At 23-16, the Rays are seven games over .500 for the first time in the team's 11 seasons. They've finished last nine times in the past decade.
The Rays were two outs away from victory when Hideki Matsui hit his first homer since April 15, a stretch of 57 at-bats, into the right-field seats off Percival to send it to extra innings.
Eric Hinske drove in Tampa Bay's first run with a two-out, fourth-inning single off Chien-Ming Wang, who allowed one run and seven hits in seven innings.
Rays starter Edwin Jackson scattered five hits over seven innings before leaving a 1-0 lead to the bullpen.
"I said before the series, they're a very good team," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "They've improved every year. They've worked hard getting people in here, and they've done a good job."
The Yankees threatened in the second, sixth and, seventh innings against Jackson, but stranded runners at third all three times.