ST. PETERSBURG -- A crowd of 32,862 crammed into Tropicana Field on Saturday night to see the ninth installment of David Price vs. CC Sabathia. Once again, their battle met expectations.
Particularly those of Rays fans.
Seven of the eight times the aces had faced each other, the Rays came away winners. The storyline once again followed that script on Saturday, as the Rays took a 4-2 win over the Yankees.
Tampa Bay (74-53) kept pace with Boston to remain in first place in the American League East by percentage points. The Red Sox defeated the Dodgers, 4-2, on Saturday.
The Rays won for the eighth time in their last 10 games while moving to 21 games over .500 to match their season-high mark. They are now 9-6 against the Yankees this season.
Price gave up two runs in the fifth, issuing a bases-loaded walk to Austin Romine and allowing an RBI groundout to Ichiro Suzuki that scored Vernon Wells. But Price got a much-needed lift from Sean Rodriguez in the sixth, when the Rays' left fielder grabbed Alfonso Soriano's one-out drive at the wall.
"There was nobody on, but that's how stuff gets going," Price said. "Him getting back there, finding the wall, making the jumping catch at the wall, it's big for us."
Soriano's body language indicated that he thought he had just collected his 27th home run. Rays manager Joe Maddon also said he thought the ball was gone.
"I didn't think he hit it that good," Price said. "But when I saw the replay in here and he did his hop, jump and a skip, I figured it was 30 rows deep. ... That's definitely seven rows deep in New York, but it's an out here."
Price liked the play so much that he stepped off the mound to face Rodriguez, then tipped his cap.
Price allowed two runs on five hits in six innings to improve to 8-5 on the season. Since his July 2 return from the disabled list, Price is 7-1 with a 1.97 ERA and 62 strikeouts in 11 starts. He has issued just six walks to the 308 batters he has faced during that period.
"It was big," said Price of the win. "With what Chris Archer was able to do with us getting that first win last night off an extremely tough pitcher in [Hiroki] Kuroda, it's huge for us. We want to continue to win series, and that's what we did tonight."
Sabathia entered the contest with a 4.83 ERA, which was indicative of the struggles he's had this season. Pitching with an extra day of rest on Saturday, Sabathia threw fastballs that seemed to have a little extra giddy-up. That translated to a quality start, just not a victory.
Just when Sabathia appeared ready to tuck away the game after five scoreless frames, the Rays got busy in the sixth.
Sam Fuld singled to open the inning, and Desmond Jennings followed with a walk. Ben Zobrist then doubled to the gap in left-center field to drive home two. Evan Longoria then singled to left-center field to drive home Zobrist with what turned out to be the winning run.
"I just lost my command and tried to nibble," Sabathia said. "I cost us the game. … It's frustrating. Something that I've expressed over the past two years is not being able to hold a lead, and it happened again tonight."
Maddon noted that Sabathia looked "as good as I've seen him in a while."
"His stuff was outstanding. His fastball -- everything. His location, changeup, slider," Maddon said. "David kind of matched it up well. We had the [big] inning finally -- pretty much different once we got him in the stretch. Out of the windup, he was extremely comfortable. But a couple of big knocks there, first and second. Zo puts the ball in the gap. And then Longo had himself a pretty good evening."
Longoria added a solo home run in the eighth, giving him three hits on the evening and 27 home runs for the season while pushing the Rays' lead to 4-2 heading into the ninth.
"I think sometimes you just have to have a couple of good at-bats and feel what it's supposed to feel like before you can actually start doing it on a consistent basis," Longoria said of his recent hot streak. "Just continue to work in the cage. After a couple of good at-bats, they've just started to pile up lately."
Fernando Rodney retired the Yankees in order in the ninth to preserve the win and record his 30th save of the season.
"I'm really pleased with our guys," Maddon said. "You've got to be in the dugout to understand. That game began today, and our guys believed we were going to win that game somehow. Not in a cocky way, just in a very confident way. When you get to that point in the year -- almost September -- and you get that vibe among your group, it's kind of a good thing. We've been there before as a playoff team, and it really smells that way right now."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.