With the scored tied at 1, Nick Swisher began the eighth inning with a walk against Rays reliever Lance Cormier. Mark Teixeira singled Swisher to third and took second on a throwing error by right fielder Gabe Kapler, who also bobbled the ball. With Jerry Hairston Jr. running for Swisher, Cormier intentionally walked Alex Rodriguez to get to Robinson Cano. He lined a ball to right-center field for a go-ahead sacrfice fly. Jorge Posada's single and Eric Hinske's sac fly off Chad Bradford added insurance.
Jeter, sitting three hits away from Lou Gehrig's Yankees career record of 2,721, went 0-for-4 with a flyout, a strikeout and two groundouts. Sabathia struck out 10 and allowed one run in seven innings but came away with a no-decision.
"I think it was Swisher's hard turn, once Kapler made the mistake," manager Joe Girardi said. "To me that's what stands out. You don't assume that they're going to catch the ball or field it cleanly. Swish did not and took advantage of their little miscue, and that was another miscue in the game."
If not for two defensive plays, the Yankees may not have come to bat in the eighth inning with the game tied. Brett Gardner made a diving catch on the warning track on a ball hit by Fernando Perez with one out in the fifth, and Posada, working with a Phil Hughes pitchout, threw out Carl Crawford trying to steal second with no one out in the top of the eighth.
"We've always said that one of his big gifts is his speed," Girardi said of Gardner. "To me, that changed the game, as well. It's a different game if that ball falls. That's an unbelieveable play that he made."
Crawford entered the game with 55 steals in 66 attempts, but he was nipped at second by Posada.
"If he gets on, he's going to try to create something," Girardi said. "With the heart of the order coming up, that's what he's going to try to do. He's not been thrown out much. Hughes did his job, Jorge did his job, and that's a big play in the game."
Prior to the Yankees' late rally, scoring opportunities were few and far between for both teams. In the bottom of first, the Yankees got on the board against Rays starter Matt Garza with some help from Tampa Bay's defense. With two outs and no one on, Teixeira reached when shortstop Jason Bartlett, playing on the first-base side of second base, booted a ground ball. Rodriguez followed with a double to left-center to score Teixeira from first.
But Sabathia promptly gave that run back on an Evan Longoria opposite-field home run in the top of the second. The lefty didn't allow another hit until a Dioner Navarro single in the fifth. He escaped a two-on, two-out jam in the sixth. Sabathia finished his one-run performance by striking out the final two batters he faced, giving him 10 in a game for the third time in his last six starts. He threw 118 pitches, 71 of which were strikes.
"He doesn't get himself in trouble, Girardi said. "He doesn't walk a lot of people. He stays ahead in the count. That's what he does. That's what he's done for years. That's what made him so attractive to this organization."
"I was able to get the ball down in the strike zone," Sabathia said. "When I'm not trying to throw hard is usually when I'm throwing the hardest. The offspeed stuff was pretty good, the cutter was good. With two strikes, I was able to get a lot of strikeouts with it."
Hughes pitched a scoreless eighth, and Mariano Rivera came in for his 39th save of the season.
Rivera pitched the ninth inning without incident after a leadoff walk. He reported soreness in his groin on the Yankees' recent road trip and hadn't pitched since Tuesday. But he pronounced himself healthy after the game.
"I felt good," Rivera said. "First batter, I was a little tentative. After that, just went out there and did my job."
Asked if the groin would be a lingering concern, Rivera said, "No, I'm not going to worry about it."
Sabathia remained at 16 wins despite his strong start. As the Yankees know, wins count just the same if they go to a reliever or a starter.
"Sometimes, the game is won or lost in one inning, and that's the way it was today," Girardi said.
Thomas Boorstein is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.