NEW YORK (AP) — Ben Zobrist stood on the warning track in right field and watched Curtis Granderson’s high drive. A routine fly in most big league parks, this ball landed several rows into the seats for a home run.
The Rays had a chance to tie it in the ninth but David Robertson struck out Carlos Pena with the bases loaded in his first save chance since Mariano Rivera’s season-ending knee injury, helping the New York Yankees end a seven-game skid against Tampa Bay with a 5-3 victory Tuesday night.
“I thought it was a popup to right field,” Rays starter James Shields said. “That’s what happens in this place.”
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What also happens at the new Yankee Stadium is the Rays have trouble winning. Tampa Bay has lost seven of nine here. The Rays have lost three in a row overall.
Raul Ibanez homered twice and the Yankees handed Shields (5-1) his first loss in seven starts this season.
“We had good opportunities, it just did not work out,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “We just haven’t been able to do it the past couple of games.”
Ivan Nova (4-1) rebounded nicely after snapping his 15-game winning streak, pitching seven sharp innings, the last three in a steady rain. He gave up six hits and struck out eight.
The Yankees began the season with three straight losses to Tampa Bay in Florida and last beat the AL East-leading Rays on Sept. 21. It was their longest losing streak all-time against the Rays.
Rafael Soriano moved up to the eighth-inning spot in the Yankees’ reorganized bullpen and immediately gave up a triple to Zobrist. Zobrist scored on a wild pitch to make it 4-3 but Soriano struck out the side.
Mark Teixeira had an RBI double in the eighth to give Robertson a two-run cushion.
Robertson ran in from the Yankees bullpen during the mid-inning announcements. His song, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” — a stark difference from Rivera’s “Enter Sandman,” by Metallica — began playing just before he reached the mound and the small percentage of the remaining 37,086 gave him a nice ovation.
“Tonight I was thinking, geez, better not blow your first one,” Robertson said. “Better not blow your first opportunity or Mo might come in here and smack me around.”
Robertson, born in Birmingham, Ala., retired Jeff Keppinger on a grounder to second base to end his streak of eight straight strikeouts before walking Will Rhymes and Sean Rodriguez singled. He struck out pinch-hitter Brandon Allen then walked Zobrist to load the bases.
After the called third strike secured his fourth career save and first this season, Robertson threw his hands up over his head then got a quick hug from catcher Russell Martin. Then he joined the Yankees’ usual handshake line near second base.
Roberston has held opponents to a .159 average (7 for 44) — 26 strikeouts — with the bases loaded in the regular season.
“I think Mo would’ve thrown 12 pitches and broke a bat and we woulda been out of here 20 minutes ago,” Robertson said.
Robertson might have gotten the save but Nick Swisher made the opportunity possible in the seventh with two strong throws from right field. First he forced Keppinger, running from first, to stop at third on Rhymes’ double into the corner. Then he held Keppinger, who was playing for the injured Evan Longoria, at third with an accurate throw home on Rodriguez’s fly. Nova finished the seventh by pounding his glove after striking out Jose Molina.
“It’s just like at Fenway. With the short field in right, the relay throw doesn’t have to be long,” Maddon said. “I thought he would have been out if he went, whether Swisher hit the cutoff or not.”
Nova gave up a leadoff single to Zobrist then retired 14 in a row before the rain started to fall and he appeared to lose his grip on the ball, giving up two straight singles. Nova bounced back by striking out Rodriguez on a full count.
Molina homered leading off the sixth and Luke Scott hit a one-out home run in the seventh for Tampa Bay, which had its only off day in a 30-day stretch Monday.
Ibanez hit a long drive to right field in the fourth for just his second hit — both homers — in 16 at-bats against Shields. Granderson then ended a long drought of his own against the Rays ace, snapping an 0-for-18 slump with the homer.
“A couple of changeups that any place else is an out,” Molina said about the two pitches Shields threw on the homers.
Ibanez then ripped a drive off the right-field pole against reliever Burke Badenhop leading off the seventh to make it 4-2. It was his 15th career multihomer game.
“Just trying not to do too much,” Ibanez said. “Put an easy swing on the ball.”
Shields gave up three runs and four hits in six innings. He gave up six runs to the Yankees on opening day but did not get a decision when Rivera blew the save.
NOTES: Rays SS Desmond Jennings (left knee) says he should be able to start in the field in a day or two. He will wear a brace on the knee. … Keppinger was placed on the restricted list after the game for a personal matter and the Rays called up OF Brandon Guyer from Triple-A Durham … Molina hit the last home run at old Yankee Stadium in 2008, when he was with the Yankees.