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Abreu lifts Yanks over Rays

Jul 9, 2008 - 10:21 PM By Larry Fleisher PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

BRONX, New York (Ticker) -- The New York Yankees handed out mustaches in support of Jason Giambi's All-Star campaign. Bobby Abreu's hit helped them with a bigger goal - shaving another game off their deficit in the American League East Division.

Abreu doubled in the winning run with one out in the bottom of the 10th inning Wednesday afternoon as the Yankees pulled out a dramatic 2-1 victory over the first-place Tampa Bay Rays.

New York (49-42) swept the brief two-game series to climb with 6 1/2 games of the Rays (55-35), who boast the best record in the major leagues.

"We were just looking for a win," Abreu said. "That's the most important thing. We played good last night and we played good today against the team that is leading the league. That is very important for the team."

Abreu's hit - just his sixth in his last 35 at-bats - gave the Yankees their fourth straight win following last week's 1-5 slump and touched off a celebration on the field.

"It's been a big four games for us," New York manager Joe Girardi said. "We had to make up some ground and that's what we did and we have to keep the momentum going."

Giambi had a first-inning RBI single, but for most of the afternoon, the Yankees' offense struggled. They were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position and stranded eight through the first nine frames.

They finally got a big hit when Abreu drove in Derek Jeter with a drive to the gap in right-center field. It was Abreu's first walk-off RBI since becoming a Yankee at the trade deadline in 2006.

Jeter started the winning rally with a one-out walk off Grant Balfour (2-1). Abreu fouled off four straight fastballs before ending a well-played contest.

"He threw me a lot of fastballs and the last pitch, it was a changeup down and in," Abreu said. "I was just making the adjustments."

"It was just a huge hit, a great at-bat," Girardi added. "He was aggressive and he put the ball right in the gap."

The win came on a day in which the Yankees handed out promotional mustaches to the first 20,000 fans to help Giambi's bid for the final spot on the American League All-Star team. Several members of the organization sported them and Girardi even wore one while conducting his postgame press conference.

"We could have easily slipped away," Giambi said. "We definitely want to win the games with the teams that are ahead of you. That's what makes a difference. The biggest thing is we took advantage of that."

Mariano Rivera (4-3) struck out four in two hitless innings for the victory, capping an outstanding performance on the mound for New York.

Sidney Ponson pitched six solid innings while setup men Jose Veras and Kyle Farnsworth each tossed a hitless frame. Rivera issued a one-out walk to Cliff Floyd in the ninth but struck out Eric Hinske to end the frame and then breezed through the 10th.

Ponson worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the second and allowed Carlos Pena's 14th home run among five hits in six innings.

A week after allowing seven runs and nine hits in five innings against Texas, Ponson took a shutout into the sixth. The righthander lost it when Pena opened the frame by sending a 1-2 pitch over the right-center field wall.

"My mechanics were way better than last time," Ponson said. "I got myself in a couple of jams but I was lucky enough to get out of them."

Ponson had little margin of error because New York's offense faltered against Edwin Jackson, who gave up one run and six hits over 6 1/3 innings.

After Giambi's RBI single, the Yankees stranded two in the third, left rookie Brett Gardner in scoring position in the fifth and Cabrera at second in the seventh.

In the ninth, they failed to bring home pinch runner Justin Christian after the rookie was sacrificed to second by Robinson Cano and stole third with one out. Christian was stranded when Melky Cabrera struck out and Jose Molina popped out weakly to second base.

Tampa Bay has lost three straight for the first time since June 3-5 and also is experiencing problems in the clutch. The Rays were hitless in five at-bats with runners in scoring position Wednesday and are just 2-for-28 in their last three games.

"There isn't anything to change," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. "You lose a couple games, but it's not a time to start changing things around. We've had three tough losses but they came right off a seven-game winning streak."

"We can't hang our heads," Tampa Bay center fielder B.J. Upton added. "It's a long season. You're going to run into these kinds of streaks."