Quick-starting Yankees are pulling away from Rays
NEW YORK — Real fast, Nick Swisher and the New York Yankees got real comfortable against James Shields.
Swisher homered to key a five-run burst in the first inning against Big Game James and the Yankees beat Tampa Bay, 8-3, last night, opening a 2 1/2-game lead over the Rays in the AL East.
The Yankees cut their magic number for clinching a playoff spot to three over Boston. The Rays hold a 6 1/2-game lead in the wild-card race over Boston, which lost, 9-1, to Baltimore.
Shields (13-13) started against the Yankees for the sixth time this season. He had done well in his previous outings, but this time they figured him out in a hurry.
“This is two in a row we faced him. We made some adjustments, he made some adjustments,’’ Swisher said. “Tonight, we put it on him.’’
It’s a pattern that’s troubled the Rays rotation for the last few weeks — aside from ace David Price, their starters have struggled. Tampa Bay’s third straight loss left it 8-10 with a 5.32 ERA in September.
“First inning, I made two or three bad pitches,’’ Shields said. “You let five runs in the first inning, that’s definitely not doing my job. With this team, you definitely can’t do that.’’
Tampa Bay nicked Phil Hughes (17-8) and relievers Javier Vazquez and Joba Chamberlain, but never quite got the big hit it needed while stranding 10 runners.
Ahead, 7-3, Chamberlain escaped a bases-loaded jam in the eighth by striking out pinch-hitter Brad Hawpe and getting John Jaso on a liner to center. Chamberlain finished for his third save.
New York has won the first two in this four-game series, and pulled even at 8-8 with the Rays this season.
“I think we all pretty much know what’s at stake,’’ Swisher said. “Take the Rays and us and line us up, and let’s see what happens. Getting kind of chilly out there, smells like playoff baseball.’’
Robinson Cano blooped an opposite-field, two-run double to left in front of a diving Carl Crawford for a 7-3 lead in the seventh. Derek Jeter doubled home a run in the eighth.
“We haven’t accomplished anything yet, but I like what I’ve seen,’’ Jeter said. “Right now it seems like things are starting to click a little bit.’’
A bright moon hung over the right-field facade when the game began, and Swisher hit a rocket into the bleachers on Shields’s sixth pitch for his 27th homer. Jorge Posada hit an RBI single with two outs, Lance Berkman boomed a two-run double, and Curtis Granderson’s single made it 5-0.