NEW YORK (AP) - B.J. Upton and the Tampa Bay Rays never mounted that game-changing rally. Fortunately for them, the Baltimore Orioles did just that in Boston.
Ivan Nova pitched shutout ball into the eighth inning, Curtis Granderson drove in four runs and the New York Yankees moved within one win of a postseason spot by beating Tampa Bay 5-0 on Tuesday night.
Though they wasted a chance to trim their deficit in the AL wild-card race, the Rays had something to feel good about: They remained two games behind the Red Sox, who coughed up a late lead and lost 7-5 to Baltimore.
``Obviously, we would have liked to have gained a game, but it didn't happen,' Upton said. ``We can't dwell on it. It's done with. The good thing is, we didn't lose any ground, either. We have to regroup and get ready to win a ballgame tomorrow.'
Granderson hit a three-run double and reached base four times, boosting his MVP credentials as the Yankees slowed Tampa Bay's late charge at Boston. The Rays have nine games remaining, six against the Yankees. The Red Sox have seven games left, four against last-place Baltimore and three in New York.
``I absolutely love it. This is what you plot in the offseason, and you play the whole season to play meaningful games at this time of year,' Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. ``I know we're not going to get any extra money for it, but we've already been in the playoffs for about 10 days. And it's been fantastic.'
New York can secure its 16th postseason trip in 17 years with one victory in Wednesday's day-night doubleheader against the Rays. In fact, the AL East leaders are in with a win over Tampa Bay in any of their six remaining matchups this season.
The Yankees could also wrap up the division title Wednesday with a doubleheader sweep and another Red Sox loss to Baltimore.
``Right now we feel we've got ourselves in a good spot,' outfielder Nick Swisher said. ``We're not worried about anybody else, we're not paying attention to anybody else.'
One day after Mariano Rivera set the major league saves record with No. 602, New York turned its attention to a four-game series with surging Tampa Bay, which trailed Boston by nine games on Sept. 3. No major league team has ever overcome that large a deficit in September to reach the postseason.
Nova (16-4) pitched in traffic all night but the rookie never caved, allowing six hits and three walks over 7 2-3 innings. Despite a midseason demotion to the minors, he is 12-0 with a 3.09 ERA in 15 starts since a June 3 loss at the Los Angeles Angels.
Nova's ability to pitch out of trouble kept the Yankees in control even though they went 1 for 7 with the bases loaded and stranded 18 runners - their most in a nine-inning game since Sept. 21, 1956, when they set the major league record with 20 in a 13-7 loss at Boston.
One of the few big hits was Granderson's bases-loaded double down the right-field line off Wade Davis (10-10) in the second. Eric Chavez had an RBI single earlier in the inning following Swisher's leadoff double.
The rally was helped along when Brett Gardner reached on a bunt single to load the bases. It appeared second baseman Sean Rodriguez had his foot on the edge of the first base bag as he took the throw in time, but Gardner was called safe by umpire Scott Barry.
Davis and Maddon argued the call, to no avail.
``I felt strong. I just never got into a good rhythm,' Davis said. ``It's frustrating. You want to go out there and keep your team in the game, and then you give up four runs in an inning. It's tough to swallow.'
Granderson added an RBI infield single in the fifth, when first baseman Casey Kotchman shoveled low to the pitcher covering.
Tampa Bay put the leadoff man on four times against Nova, including every inning from the fifth through the seventh. But the Rays couldn't cash in.
Nova worked out of a bases-loaded, none-out jam in the seventh. He retired Desmond Jennings on a shallow fly and screamed into his glove after Upton grounded into an inning-ending double play.
``He threw a lot of strikes. We hit some balls hard, just couldn't scrap for runs,' Upton said. ``Overall, you've just got to tip your cap to him. He made pitches when he needed to and didn't really let us get anything going.'
Boone Logan and Luis Ayala finished the six-hitter.
NOTES: Rays 2B-RF Ben Zobrist was not with the team following the birth Monday of his daughter, Kruse. He is expected back sometime Wednesday. ... LHP David Price is on track to start Friday night against Toronto. He left Sunday's outing in Boston after getting hit on the right side of his chest by a line drive. ... Tampa Bay needs a starter for Saturday and Maddon said the options are a pair of rookie left-handers: Matt Moore and Alex Torres. ... Maddon was fined Tuesday but not suspended following his ejection at Fenway Park on Friday night, when he criticized umpire Hunter Wendelstedt's ``one-sided' strike zone. ``A normal fine, which I totally deserved,' Maddon said. ``It was very fair.' ... Rays closer Kyle Farnsworth (sore elbow) played catch and plans to throw a bullpen session Wednesday. Farnsworth has been sidelined since his last appearance Sept. 10 but thinks he can return by the end of the season. ... Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he wasn't sure whether RHP Phil Hughes (back spasms) would be able to make his scheduled start in the first game Wednesday. Girardi didn't disclose any other candidates. ... New York ace CC Sabathia goes for his 20th win in the twinbill.
The Associated Press News Service
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