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Yanks edge Rays on Abreu's walk-off

Abreu gives Yankees walk-off win

NEW YORK -- A Gatorade bath may not have been the cooldown Bobby Abreu was looking for on a muggy Wednesday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.

But when he got one, he didn't mind.

Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera doused the Yankees' right fielder in ice-cold Gatorade after he connected on a double to drive in the game-winning run in walk-off fashion, defeating the Rays, 2-1.

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Despite the Gatorade's cold temperature, Abreu was all smiles. And with good reason. During the game's final at-bat, he fouled off four fastballs from Tampa Bay reliever Grant Balfour. He was getting good looks, just waiting for one to come over the plate.

He got one. Balfour (2-1) threw a changeup, and Abreu pounced, knocking the ball to the gap in deep right-center field. Derek Jeter sprinted around the bases from first, and joked after the game that as long as he didn't fall down, he'd cross the plate with the winning run.

"Bobby always has a great approach up there," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "Bobby's a professional hitter. He knows what he's doing, and he's been successful. I always feel comfortable when he's at the plate."

The hit proved to be the difference-maker in a contest filled with outstanding pitching performances.

New York starter Sidney Ponson blanked Tampa Bay through five innings before he gave up a solo home run to Carlos Pena in the sixth. Ponson was visibly upset with himself after he lost the lead, hitting the side of his head as he left the field at the close of the frame.

"I'm still rushing a little bit with my mechanics, and that hurts," Ponson said. "I'm just trying to make it simple, slow my game down a little bit. Sometimes I try to go too hard -- too hard, too fast -- and that's how I get myself in trouble."

But the Yankees (49-42) couldn't have asked for much more from their starter. The right-hander gave up just one run and scattered five hits through six innings.

Ponson worked himself out of a bases-loaded jam in the second inning, and after he struggled against his former Texas club in his previous start, Girardi was pleased with the righty's outing Wednesday.

"We didn't have any doubt that he would throw the ball well for us," Girardi said. "He made a lot of good adjustments today. He got a lot of ground balls, and that's what we expect from Sidney."

Ponson's performance was followed by four shutout innings from the bullpen. Jose Veras and Kyle Farnsworth quickly retired three batters each, before Mariano Rivera (4-3) took over with two scoreless innings to pick up his second straight win.

New York's relievers have played a big role in the team's recent win streak. With Wednesday's victory, the Yankees have won four straight games.

The turnaround came after Girardi held a team meeting following a 7-0 loss to Boston on Thursday. The manager kept the clubhouse closed for more than 30 minutes after the final pitch to air out his frustration.

It didn't take long for a reaction. The Yankees bounced back to split the series with the second-place Red Sox and take both games of a two-game set against the first-place Rays (55-35).

"I've been very happy with the way the club has played," Girardi said. "They've responded very well since the meeting. This is a good baseball club. We just needed to play better on a consistent basis."

And with the winning, the Yankees have been able to have a little fun. Costume mustaches were distributed throughout Yankee Stadium on Wednesday in support of Jason Giambi's bid to become the American League's Monster 2008 All-Star Final Vote winner for the All-Star Game.

The slugger called the gesture "humbling" and responded with an RBI single to put New York on the scoreboard early. Girardi got in on the action, too, wearing one of the mustaches during his postgame media session, urging all Yankees fans to get in on the Final Vote.

The feel in the clubhouse Wednesday was a drastically different one from six days earlier, and Giambi said after the team hit a wall, a winning streak was exactly what the Yankees needed.

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

Samantha Newman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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