Vernon Wells glanced at the scoreboard and noted that the fastball he’d seen well clocked in at 96 mph.
Big slump or not, Wells felt good about his pinch-hit at-bat with the Yankees trailing Tampa Bay in the seventh inning Saturday. So with a confident swing, he smashed a three-run, go-ahead double that carried New York to a 7-5 win over the Rays.
Wells was in a 9-for-87 slide that landed him on the bench the past two days, with rookie outfielder Zoilo Almonte starting in his place. But with the Yankees down 5-4, Wells batted for No. 9 hitter Chris Stewart with the bases loaded and two outs.
”Through his struggles, I think his at-bats against lefties were still pretty good,” manager Joe Girardi said. ”We just liked the matchup. Vern’s been doing it for a long time in big spots.”
Wells’ drive to right-center bounced above the top of the wall, where it hit a fan’s glove and was ruled fan interference.
The umpires allowed all three runners to cross home plate, determining David Adams would have scored from first base if not for the fan interference. They sent Wells back to second, but the Yankees suddenly had a 7-5 lead.
Rays manager Joe Maddon argued that it should have been called a ground-rule double, with only two runs scoring.
”It was good to hit a ball and it not land in somebody’s glove,” Wells said. ”And it came at a great time.”
Tampa Bay led 5-3 after top prospect Wil Myers hit a grand slam for his first career home run in the sixth.
Wells’ first extra-base hit since May 31 got CC Sabathia (8-5) off the hook after he allowed five runs in seven innings.
”It’s frustrating,” Sabathia said. ”I’m happy these guys came back and were able to overcome that.”
Mariano Rivera worked a scoreless ninth for his 26th save.
Meanwhile, Almonte kept up his hot hitting, starting in Wells’ place in left field. On Friday night, he went 3 for 4 with a home run. He was 1 for 2 with two walks and three RBIs on Saturday.
”It’s not easy at all, but I’m trying my best,” Almonte said through a translator. ”I feel like I’m seeing the ball really well and I just hope it continues.”
David Robertson came on after the Yankees took the lead and pitched a perfect eighth with two strikeouts.
Joel Peralta (1-4) took over for the Rays in the seventh and immediately got in trouble. He loaded the bases with one out on two walks and Lyle Overbay’s double, and was pulled for lefty Jake McGee.
McGee struck out Jayson Nix for the second out but walked Adams to force in a run, the second time the Yankees scored on a bases-loaded walk. Adams had never drawn a walk in 86 career plate appearances before Saturday; he had two in the game.
Wells then batted for Stewart, who was 0 for 3 with a double play to end a second-inning threat.
As bad as his numbers looked, Wells insisted he had felt OK at the plate. The time off gave him the chance to work on his swing in the batting cage.
”I never lose confidence,” he said. ”As soon as you lose confidence, you’re done.”
The Rays trailed 3-1 when the Yankees intentionally walked Evan Longoria with two outs to get to Myers.
The rookie came in hitting .190 in five games since he was called up from the minors at the beginning of the week. He’d had exactly one hit in four straight games before going 3 for 4 on Saturday in his first start as a designated hitter.
Longoria was 2 for 2 with a double and a solo homer that accounted for the Rays’ lone run when the Yankees intentionally walked him. On a 1-2 count, Myers hit a high fly to center. Brett Gardner jumped at the fence and the ball bounced off the webbing of his glove and into the stands, though it appeared to already be over the wall when he touched it.
”It was just awesome to be down two strikes and the crowd cheering and to be able to put a swing like that on it,” Myers said. ”Just a cool experience.”
Rays rookie starter Alex Colome is yet to allow an earned run over 10 innings in two career starts. He gave up three unearned runs, five hits and five walks with three strikeouts in 4 1-3 innings. The Rays handed out a season-worst nine walks.
With two outs in the third, Almonte singled on a two-strike count to drive in two runs and give the Yankees a 2-1 lead. He walked with the bases loaded in the fifth.
NOTES: Myers became the first visiting player to hit a grand slam at Yankee Stadium for his first career home run since Detroit’s Ricky Peters in 1980. Myers is the second player in club history with a grand slam for that first homer. Jorge Velandia did it in 2007, also against the Yankees. … Rays LHP Alex Torres allowed no hits and struck out three in 1 2-3 innings, extending his scoreless streak to open the season to 20 innings. … Yankees 2B Robinson Cano had a career-high four walks. … RHP Ivan Nova (2-1) looks to extend his career record against Tampa Bay at Yankee Stadium to 5-0 on Sunday, the park’s 67th Old-Timers’ Day. Rays RHP Chris Archer (1-3), their second straight rookie starter, is 0-5 on the road in his career.