Nick Swisher keys early burst as Yankees take 2½ game lead on Rays

NEW YORK -- Real fast, Nick Swisher and the New York Yankees got real comfortable against James Shields.

Swisher homered to key a five-run burst in the first inning against Big Game James and the Yankees beat Tampa Bay 8-3 on Tuesday night, opening a 2 1/2-game lead over the Rays in the AL East.

The Yankees cut their magic number for clinching a playoff spot to three over Boston. The Rays hold a 6 1/2-game lead in the wild-card race over Boston, which lost 9-1 to Baltimore.

Shields (13-13) started against the Yankees for the sixth time this season. He had done well in his previous outings, but this time they figured him out in a hurry.

"This is two in a row we faced him. We made some adjustments, he made some adjustments," Swisher said. "Tonight, we put it on him."

It's a pattern that's troubled the Rays rotation for the last few weeks -- aside from ace David Price, their starters have struggled. Tampa Bay's third straight loss left it 8-10 with a 5.32 ERA in September.

"First inning, I made two or three bad pitches," Shields said. "You let five runs in the first inning, that's definitely not doing my job. With this team, you definitely can't do that."

Tampa Bay nicked Phil Hughes (17-8) and relievers Javier Vazquez and Joba Chamberlain, but never quite got the big hit it needed while stranding 10 runners.

Ahead 7-3, Chamberlain escaped a bases-loaded jam in the eighth by striking out pinch-hitter Brad Hawpe and getting John Jaso on a liner to center. Chamberlain finished for his third save.

New York has won the first two in this four-game series, and pulled even at 8-all with the Rays this season.

"I think we all pretty much know what's at stake," Swisher said. "Take the Rays and us and line us up, and let's see what happens.

"Getting kind of chilly out there, smells like playoff baseball," he said.

Robinson Cano blooped an opposite-field, two-run double to left in front of a diving Carl Crawford for a 7-3 lead in the seventh. Derek Jeter doubled home a run in the eighth.

"We haven't accomplished anything yet, but I like what I've seen," Jeter said. "Right now it seems like things are starting to click a little bit."

A bright moon hung over the right-field facade when the game began, and Swisher hit a rocket into the bleachers on Shields' sixth pitch for his 27th homer. Jorge Posada hit an RBI single with two outs, Lance Berkman boomed a two-run double and Curtis Granderson's single made it 5-0.

"We put our 'A' lineup out there," Swisher said.

Shields backed up the plate on Granderson's hit, and slammed his pitching hand into his glove and shouted at himself. Shields had a word, too, for plate umpire Mike Everitt in the third after Posada reached on a hit by pitch.

The ball skipped past Posada's shin and he instantly headed toward first base -- it was impossible to tell from replays whether the pitch grazed his pants leg and besides, umpires make that call based on sound, rather than sight.

Shields, catcher Jaso and manager Joe Maddon calmly discussed it with Everitt, surely still smarting from Jeter's admitted act last week after a Rays pitch hit the knob of his bat, not him. Maddon came out again when the inning ended to talk with Everitt, maybe thinking that after an episode of Jeter Cheater, it should be Posada Nada.

Maddon said his "guys told me it didn't hit him."

"But we're in New York, we're also close to the theater district and more power to them," Maddon said.

Matt Joyce hit a solo home run in the Rays second and Evan Longoria had an RBI single in the third. Ben Zobrist grounded out with the bases loaded to end the fourth and brushed past Hughes, who was covering first. Hughes turned to look at Zobrist, but nothing ensued.

Game notes
Posada was hit in the groin area by Longoria's foul tip with two outs in the ninth. He was checked by a trainer and stayed in the game. ... Hughes has given up 20 home runs at home this season, matching the Yankees mark set by Scott Sanderson in 1992, the Elias Sports Bureau said. ... Wade Davis is set to start for the Rays on Wednesday night against A.J. Burnett. ... Yankees manager Joe Girardi said 1B Mark Teixeira, in a 3-for-20 slump and nursing a broken toe and sore thumb, may get a couple of days off next week if possible. ... Vazquez went one inning and for the first time since 2000, he did not strike out a batter. That was a span of 349 outings, almost all of them starts.