ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Well, that Slade 'em.
The New York Yankees got what was probably their biggest hit of the season on Monday night, and they had to rely on a rookie -- recalled on Saturday and not inserted into the game until the eighth inning -- to get it.
Slade Heathcott's three-run, opposite-field home run with two out in the ninth inning gave the Yankees an improbable a href="http://espn.com/mlb/boxscore?gameId=350914130" target="_blank">4-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays. The game looked as though it would turn out to be a no-hitter, a soul-crushing 1-0 defeat that would send the Yankees four games back of the idle Toronto Blue Jays in the AL East.
The Yankees got a great starting pitching performance but virtually no offense until the ninth inning, when pinch-hitter Dustin Ackley, the hero of Sunday's win over the Blue Jays, led off with a single. But it looked as if things would still end badly when Ackley was erased on Jacoby Ellsbury's (0-for-18) double-play grounder.
But then Brett Gardner walked, stole second and scored on Alex Rodriguez' double to the right-center gap. After Brian McCann walked, Heathcott -- who came in to replace Carlos Beltran in right field -- hit the second home run of his big-league life, and his first game-winner.
Now, the Jays' lead is down to three games, and maybe the Yankees won't have to settle for playing in the wild-card game after all. A win like this could turn around a whole season. Or at least the final 19 games of it.
Turn back the clock: CC Sabathia pitched what was arguably his best game of the year, holding the Rays to three hits, two of them infield singles, and no runs through 6⅔ innings, throwing a season-high 111 pitches. Unfortunately for Sabathia and the Yankees, he ran into an equally good from his Tampa Bay counterpart, Erasmo Ramirez. Still, it was an encouraging night's work from a pitcher who will, out of necessity, be part of the Yankees' rotation the rest of the way.
Busted up: Rays starter Erasmo Ramirez took a no-hitter into the eighth inning, when leadoff hitter Beltran laced a hot shot past Shaffer for a single. Rico Noel, running for Beltran, stole second but was nearly doubled off when Chase Headley lined out to right, where Steven Souza Jr. made a good running catch. That ended Ramirez' night -- 7⅔ IP, 1H, 0ER, 2BB, 6Ks -- and the Yankees have now managed just five hits and three runs off him in 22⅔ innings this season.
Great play: Still without a hit, the Yankees got Gardner to second in the seventh inning on a leadoff walk and a stolen base attempt that foiled a sure double-play ball by Rodriguez. But with the help of a baserunning gaffe by Gardner, Rays right fielder Mikie Mahtook made the play of the game, leaping high against the right-field wall to grab McCann's liner, then firing to second to double off Gardner, who inexplicably took off on contact. With his speed, Gardner would have scored easily if he had gone halfway and the ball hit the wall. Instead, he took the Yankees out of their only threat of the game to that point, preserving Ramirez' no-hitter.
A case of the willies: The Rays broke the scoreless tie off Justin Wilson, who came on to relieve Sabathia in the seventh, in the eighth inning on a one-out single by Mahtook and a double off the top of the left-field fence -- which narrowly missed being a two-run homer -- by Logan Forsythe. A throwing error by Brendan Ryan sent Forsythe to third, and Yankees manager Joe Girardi sent Wilson to the showers, replacing him with Caleb Cotham.
Great escape: The Rays loaded the bases on Sabathia with one out in the second on a clean single by Asdrubal Cabrera, an infield single by Steven Souza Jr. that Brendan Ryan bobbled, allowing Cabrera to go to third, and a walk to Richie Shaffer. But Kevin Kiermaier grounded to Greg Bird, who fired home to get the force and J.P. Arencibia flied out to left to kill the threat.