It was the crucial and deciding game of the three-game set at Yankee Stadium and the Yankees knew they needed to beat their division rivals. They needed to win to hold onto their very small division lead over the Baltimore Orioles—a lead that is just one game.
And on Sunday, the Yankees did just that, knocking off the pesky Rays for a 6-4 victory to take the series.
Russell Martin continues to have a strong September as he hit a big three-run home run off Matt Moore that made the score 5-0 in the third inning.
Those runs were very important in the game because Tampa did not go away so quietly and battled the Yankees.
A Ben Zobrist home run in the fourth inning made it 5-1, an Evan Longoria two-run RBI single made it 6-3 and Zobrist scored on a bases-loaded double play to make it 6-4.
Despite the four runs, Hiroki Kuroda once again stepped up and had another big game for the Yankees, striking out 10 batters through six innings in getting his 14th win of the season. He gave up four runs on four hits, but the 10 strikeouts really stick out. And he didn't give up the lead when Tampa Bay was attempting to rally back in the sixth inning.
Following Kuroda, the Yankees bullpen was lights out and locked down the final three innings of the game as Boone Logan, David Phelps and David Robertson all recorded holds while Rafael Soriano picked up his 40th save of the season by pitching a scoreless ninth inning.
Alex Rodriguez played an important part in Sunday's game coming up with two big hits: an RBI single in the third inning that made it 2-0 and a sac fly that made it 6-1 in the fourth inning. Those kind of hits are going to be needed from A-Rod the rest of the month and into October if the Yankees get to the postseason.
Going into this series, the Rays were not only chasing the Yankees, but the Orioles as well in the AL East and in the wild-card race and wanted these wins as much as the Yankees did.
After a disappointing Friday night game, the Yankees took change of the series and the division by taking two out of three. This weekend's series had a playoff-like atmosphere, and if you wanted to call it a test for the Yankees, then call it that.
The Yankees passed an important test.
Now, they turn their attention to the Toronto Blue Jays, and all eyes will be on Yankee Stadium Tuesday night with Andy Pettitte returning from the DL for the first time in over two and a half months.
Pettitte's return to the rotation is critical for the Yankees final 16 games of the season, as he could end up stabilizing the rotation, while at the same time giving it a jolt of energy.
When the Yankees finished their series with the Orioles last weekend, I said the Yankees needed to attempt to win two out of three games in each series they play. So far, they have done that. They beat the Red Sox and Rays in both series and have won four out of six games. If they continue this trend, October should be in sight.
With Toronto coming into town, the Yankees have quite a bit to feel good about with 16 games to play.
Stay tuned, Yankees Universe.