George Steinbrenner’s presence placed a lot more heat on Joba Chamberlain than the Tampa Bay Rays.
With the Boss making the short trip from his Florida home to watch from his private suite at Tropicana Field, Chamberlain pitched eight scoreless inning Wednesday night as New York beat the Rays 6-2 to continue a strong second-half start.
“It’s great he came here. It’s definitely good to get a win when he’s in the house,” Chamberlain said. “I heard stories about when he was here. It was a little nerve-racking. I got a little nervous knowing he was in the house.”
Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano homered and drove in two runs apiece for the Yankees, who won for the 11th time in 13 games since the All-Star break.
They increased their AL East lead over second-place Boston to 3 1/2 games and dropped the defending division champion Rays a season-high 7 1/2 games off the pace in third place.
Steinbrenner, who lives in Tampa, visited the Yankees clubhouse before the game, spending about a half-hour in manager Joe Girardi’s office.
“It’s always good to see him. He doesn’t come around as much as he used to. He’s real proud,” New York captain Derek Jeter said. “We talked about a few things. His attitude never changes.”
Chamberlain (7-2) limited the sputtering Rays to three singles – two by Jason Bartlett – while allowing only one runner to reach second base. The right-hander struck out five and walked two, with both of the free passes coming in the fifth inning.
Teixeira and Melky Cabrera hit solo homers in the ninth. Teixeira and Jorge Posada also had RBI singles for the Yankees, who have won 24 of their last 31 games to move to the top of the division.
Cano grounded out to drive in a run in the fourth inning, then hit his 16th homer of the year in the sixth for a 3-0 lead against Matt Garza (7-8).
Chamberlain is 4-0 over his last seven starts and improved to 5-0 in nine starts on the road this season. He retired eight in a row before Bartlett singled with two outs in the third and gave up an infield hit to Carl Crawford on a comebacker that he slowed down but couldn’t field in the sixth.
“In my eyes,” Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said of Chamberlain, “that’s probably the best I’ve seen him.”
Bartlett added his second hit with two outs in the eighth.
“Joba seems to get better and better every time out,” Jeter said. “Today, in my opinion, was the best he’s been all year because he was working quick, he’s throwing strikes. It’s easy to play behind him.”
Although Chamberlain departed with a 6-0 lead, the Yankees still had to call on Mariano Rivera finish the game in a non-save situation after Brian Bruney gave up a triple to Crawford and Evan Longoria‘s 21st homer with no outs in the ninth.
Rivera, who entered with one out after Carlos Pena doubled off Bruney, struck out Pat Burrell. After walking Gabe Gross, the New York closer fanned Michel Hernandez to end the game.
The Yankees built a 2-0 lead on Teixeira’s run-scoring single in the first and a single, double and Cano’s RBI grounder in the fourth, however they wasted several opportunities to put Garza in a deep hole by stranding runners at third in the second and third innings.
Garza struck out Alex Rodriguez to get out of another jam with a runner in scoring position after walking Johnny Damon and hitting Teixeira with a pitch with two outs in the fifth.
Teixeira was plunked after one of Chamberlain’s pitches sailed over the head of Longoria, who was hit by a pitch by Yankees reliever Jonathan Albaladejo. Garza said he was standing up for the Rays‘ All-Star third baseman.
“They can take whatever they want from it, but I just kind of got tired of people brushing him back. It’s about time someone made a statement,” Garza said.
“I hate to be that guy, but someone had to take a stand and say we’re tired of it. You go after our best guy. Well, we’ll make some noise, too, and that’s what happened.”
NOTES: Garza, coming off an impressive nine-inning performance in which he outpitched Roy Halladay in a 10-inning win over Toronto, allowed three runs and eight hits in seven innings. … A night after going 2 for 3 with a RBI triple against CC Sabathia, Crawford joined the Yankees ace in hosting “Catching Up With Carl Crawford,” an event held to stimulate interest in baseball among young African-Americans. The players shared stories about how they got involved in the game as youngsters. … Yankees RHP Chien-Ming Wang had season-ending arthroscopic surgery on his injured right shoulder in Birmingham, Ala. … Rays C Shawn Riggans (right shoulder tendinitis) finished a minor league rehab assignment and was optioned to Triple-A Durham.