"We're scoring early and we're having really good at-bats," Rodriguez said. "The team is playing with a lot of confidence, and we're treating every at-bat like it's our last. Right now, we're hanging by a thread. We're playing every game like it's do or die."
The contest turned historic in the ninth inning, as crew chief Charlie Reliford used baseball's new technology to take a second look at Rodriguez's 549th career home run, a drive to left field off Rays closer Troy Percival that struck the D-ring catwalk high above the domed stadium.
After a review of two minutes and 15 seconds, Rodriguez's drive was indeed ruled a home run, a two-run blast that gave New York a five-run lead.
"They got the call right, and that's the most important thing," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I've said that all along. The process worked."
While Rodriguez's home run made the umpires go to the video tape, there was plenty worthy of highlight reels. The Yankees agreed that the outcome turned in the fifth inning, when Carl Pavano -- making his third start following another long layoff -- was not able to hold on to a 6-1 lead.
With Pavano gone after 79 pitches, Cliff Floyd hit a rocket off Robinson Cano's glove to load the bases with nobody out. But Edwar Ramirez got Willy Aybar to hit a line drive that stuck in Cano's glove for an unassisted double play. One batter later, Ramirez induced Eric Hinske to pop out, sending the Rays away empty-handed.
"It's very important; that was the game right there," Ramirez said.
Rays starter Edwin Jackson could not make it out of the fourth inning, as the Yankees rapped him for five extra-base hits, though the righty also didn't get a whole lot of help from his defense. Hinske missed a second-inning Cano drive that popped out of his glove for an RBI double, then misplayed two-base hits by Bobby Abreu and A-Rod in New York's three-run third.
Ivan Rodriguez, Jason Giambi and Hideki Matsui also had run-scoring hits for the Yankees. Including a Labor Day slugfest on Monday in Detroit, the Yankees have outscored their opponents, 28-15, so far over the first three games of this trip.
"We've been facing a lot of good pitching lately," Rodriguez said. "I think we've been much better grinding out at-bats and then finishing. We've done a great job of getting on base for the last three weeks. We just haven't been getting the big hit with two outs, two strikes. That's been a difference."
Though Girardi credited Pavano with at least keeping the Yankees in the game, the right-hander took a much harsher tone in evaluating his performance. Pavano served up a long two-run homer to Gabe Gross in the fourth inning, his 12th, and faced two batters in the fifth before exiting, taking a no-decision in his 79-pitch outing.
"If you get six runs, you've got to go out there and give six or seven innings," Pavano said. "I'm disappointed in myself. I think I cheated my team."
Making his second big league appearance, left-hander Phil Coke remained impressive, tossing two scoreless, hitless innings before Brian Bruney shut down the Rays in the eighth. Coke admitted to feeling some jelly legs during his debut on Monday in Detroit, but the Yankees have had no qualms with his results so far.
"I'm just trying to throw strikes and give my team a chance to win," Coke said. "I can't even put into words what it's been like, because it's been just way beyond what I imagined it would be."
Jose Veras allowed a run in the ninth inning, but it was rendered a footnote by Rodriguez's reviewed home run in the top half, the 549th of his career, surpassing Mike Schmidt for sole possession of 12th place on baseball's all-time list.
The Yankees spent the early part of their afternoon watching the Red Sox defeat the Orioles, 5-4, on the televisions in the visiting clubhouse, and they remained seven games behind Boston for the American League Wild Card. But they remain encouraged by their performance so far on this journey.
"We talk about one game a week," Girardi said. "The important thing is you have to keep winning. When you're winning, you're usually gaining on somebody."