But for six weeks, the Rays have been a kind of footnote in the Bronx -- a qualifier written in agate on the bottom of the page. Since the Yankees took two of three from them in St. Petersburg on the season's first weekend, the Rays have been a nagging specter, a "TB" on the out-of-town scoreboard that never seemed to lose in accumulating baseball's best record.
On Wednesday night, Tampa Bay brought that sparkling record to Yankee Stadium -- a place it had lost six consecutive times -- and it showed why it was off to not just the franchise's best start in a while, but baseball's best since 2002.
The Rays put on nothing short of a baseball clinic on Wednesday in their 10-6 win over the second-place Yankees; the score was only made more respectable by four Yankees runs with two outs in the ninth. Tampa Bay finished the night with the most runs and the most hits the Yankees had allowed in any game this season.
"They played a good game," manager Joe Girardi said. "That's the bottom line."
The Rays -- and, more specifically, Jason Bartlett -- jumped on the Yankees from the first pitch and never looked back. It was Bartlett who turned on A.J. Burnett's first delivery of the night and deposited it in the left-field seats for a quick 1-0 advantage. It was Bartlett's third career leadoff home run -- remarkably, all three have come in his six career starts at Yankee Stadium.
It was an ill harbinger for Burnett, who submitted a poor outing for the second time in his past three starts. Although Bartlett's home run got the ball rolling for the Rays, a four-run fourth inning that featured command problems and a quartet of stolen bases was Burnett's undoing.
With the score 2-0, B.J. Upton and Hank Blalock started the fourth with singles that each glanced off the gloves of Yankees infielders. After a double steal, John Jaso drove both runners in with a ground-rule double to left, then scored himself on Carl Crawford's double off the wall in right. Evan Longoria singled in Crawford and stole second before Burnett retired Carlos Pena to end the frame.
Burnett would not allow another run the rest of the night, but the damage had been done against a team that had yielded a half-dozen runs just four times in its first 39 games -- and not once since April 27.
"I felt decent all night," said Burnett, who finished having allowed six runs on nine hits in 6 2/3 innings. "It just got away from me that one inning, and I couldn't stop it soon enough."
Burnett walked four for the second successive outing in addition to hitting a batter.
"I walked way too many people, threw too many balls," Burnett said. "I didn't get ahead of too many guys."
Indeed, the three consecutive hits to lead off the fourth all came after Burnett had fallen behind with Ball 1. And once they reached base, the Rays maximized their opportunities. They stole six bases in all off the combination of Burnett and Francisco Cervelli, even if Girardi insisted Ben Zobrist was out in the first inning. It was the most stolen bases against New York since Aug. 10, 1992, in Detroit. Tampa Bay also advanced runners on a sacrifice bunt, a Cervelli error on an attempted pickoff, and on three separate fly balls to the outfield. In the Rays' four-run eighth, Zobrist scored from second on a fly ball to center on which Brett Gardner made a spectacular leaping catch.
"That's just how we play," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. "When we get different kinds of opportunities, we try to take advantage of them. ... You look at what they're willing to give you and you just try to take advantage of it. We try to do that every night."
"We know what they're capable of," said Derek Jeter. "They're going to force you to throw them out. That's part of their game. They're going to run and keep running."
The Yankees' best chance to get back in the game came in the sixth. Following a leadoff Alex Rodriguez home run -- No. 589 in the third baseman's career -- that cut the lead to 6-2, the Yankees loaded the bases with two outs for Jeter, who got ahead in the count 3-0 against Lance Cormier before grounding out to short to end the threat. New York never got the tying run to the plate again.
Wade Davis was solid for Tampa Bay, holding the Yankees to two runs on seven hits in 5 2/3 innings in picking up his fourth win of the season. Joaquin Benoit earned his first save in two years by cleaning up Andy Sonnanstine's mess in the ninth and striking out Juan Miranda with the sacks loaded to end the game.
The Rays are only in the Bronx for two games, but on Wednesday, they made it clear that two games will provide enough opportunity to prove to the Yankees that this start is no fluke -- that they are less a footnote and more a headline.
Tim Britton is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less