The Yankees jumped on James Shields early, knocking the enigmatic righty around for five runs in the first inning on their way to an 8-3 win over Tampa Bay. Believe it or not the Yankees actually do have one other five-run first inning under their belts this season, coming against Daisuke Matsuzaka in the wild 11-9 walk-off win against the Red Sox on May 17.
Any time you're able to hang a five spot on anyone -- let alone a pitcher like Shields that has really stymied the Yankees all season long despite being pretty mediocre against everyone else -- you have to feel pretty good about the likelihood of your team taking the game, and indeed the Yankees had a ridiculous 88.8% chance of winning after Curtis Granderson knocked in the fifth run of the first inning.
Phil Hughes labored a bit through the first four innings before finishing strongly, going 6 1/3 and ultimately giving up three earned runs, though the third was an inherited runner Javier Vazquez allowed to score. This was actually Hughes' first quality start in more than a month, the last one coming on August 19 against Detroit (6 IP, 2 ER). It was also his highest WPA (a game-high .163) since August 4 against Toronto (.196).
Shields wound up settling down after his messy first, keeping the Yankees off the board into the 6th inning. The Yankees got to Chad Qualls for two more in the seventh on a Robinson Cano double that was just dunked out of the reach of a diving Carl Crawford, and another off Andy Sonnanstine on a Derek Jeter double in the eighth.
That big first inning however, wound up being all the Yankees would need, and was really a thing of beauty in the way it unfolded. Nick Swisher homered to get the Yankees on the board, Mark Teixeira walked, Alex Rodriguez singled and after Cano struck out Jorge Posada singled and Lance Berkman hit a two-run double, which actually represented the biggest WPA swing of the game (.126).
The Yankees' second straight win over the Rays increased their division lead to 2 1/2 games, and combined with yet another Boston loss to the Buck Showalters, shrank the Bombers' Magic Number to a Ruthian 3. Additionally, the Yankees are now 4-3 against the Rays at home this season, which means the Phillies are the only team in baseball with a winning record against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium in 2010. The Yankees also improved to 51-25 at home, tied with the Twins for the best home record in baseball.
As a side note, in case you missed it since it went up late in the day yesterday, be sure to check out our American League Postseason Preview looking at the potential starting pitchers the Yankees may be facing next month.