Ivan Nova was sharp in his return from a shoulder injury and the New York Yankees got back-to-back home runs from Curtis Granderson and Eduardo Nunez in a 5-3 victory over James Shields and the Rays on Saturday.
"Again, it's the offense. We've asked a lot from the pitching staff the whole year," Tampa Bay slugger Evan Longoria said. "Can't say it enough: We've got to get hits, we've got to produce runs and however we have to do it, we've got to do it. But the time is now."
Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez each had an RBI single for the Yankees, who began the day tied with Baltimore atop the AL East. The Orioles were scheduled to play later in Oakland.
Longoria hit a solo homer for the third-place Rays, who fell four games behind New York with 17 to play.
"We don't have a lot of time," he said.
One day after Yankees ace CC Sabathia lost his third straight decision, Nova outpitched Shields and gave New York's rotation a nice boost. David Robertson worked a perfect eighth and Rafael Soriano got three outs for his 39th save in 42 attempts.
With two on in the ninth, Soriano fanned pinch-hitter Elliot Johnson for the final out — assuring the Yankees (82-63) their 20th consecutive winning season.
Coming off a two-hit shutout Sunday against Texas, Shields (14-9) allowed four runs and six hits in 6 1-3 innings. "Big Game James" has been anything but that at Yankee Stadium, where he is 0-6 with a 4.95 ERA in his last seven starts.
Rays manager Joe Maddon, however, said his hitters need to help. He likened Tampa Bay's recurring woes on offense to a country-western song.
"Between your dog and your pick-up, we came up short again," he said.
Nova (12-7) missed a little more than three weeks with inflammation in his right rotator cuff. Making his first start since Aug. 21, he was charged with two runs and four hits in six-plus innings.
"He's good, man," Tampa Bay's Carlos Pena said. "That's one of the best curveballs in the game right now."
Nova struck out eight and walked two, improving to 5-1 in eight career starts against the Rays with his second win overall since the All-Star break.
"I was just hoping that coming off of whatever was bothering him, it would continue to be a problem, and it was not," Maddon said. "We were hitting less than .200 as a group against him and you saw why today. Very tough on our lefties. The big thing with him against us — now here's a guy with almost a 5.00 ERA — against us he's got this uncanny ability to throw his breaking ball for a strike when he wants to, and that's a big part of his success against us.
"He likes our uniform, I know that. He's very comfortable when he sees our uniform."
The 25-year-old right-hander was lifted after Jeff Keppinger's leadoff single in the seventh on his 85th pitch. He pointed toward the stands, tapped his chest and doffed his cap as he walked off the field to a grateful ovation from the crowd of 46,856.
"I was waiting for this moment," Nova said.
Joba Chamberlain gave up a two-run single to pinch-hitter Luke Scott before striking out Desmond Jennings to preserve a 4-3 lead. Jennings whiffed three times in the leadoff spot.
Rodriguez added an RBI single in the eighth off Jake McGee after center fielder B.J. Upton got turned around and misplayed Robinson Cano's deep liner into a double. Before that, McGee had retired 22 consecutive batters, 13 on strikeouts.
"It did everything. Went one way, turned me around, straightened me out," Upton said. "Trust me, it did something that it wasn't supposed to do."
Raul Ibanez drew a leadoff walk in the second and Granderson sent his 39th homer into the lower seats in right field. Prior to that swing, Granderson was 6 for 56 (.107) against Shields.
Nunez, who made a costly error at shortstop late in Friday night's 6-4 loss to the Rays, followed with a long drive to left for his first major league homer since Sept. 21 last season — also off Shields. That made Nunez 7 for 14 with two home runs against the right-hander.
"I felt like I made a bad pitch to Nunez. I felt the pitch to Granderson was a good pitch," Shields said. "I went back and looked at it on the video. It was down and away, it was on the black. He's just a good hitter."
NOTES: Longoria (hamstring) was the DH again. Keppinger started at 3B. ... McGee gave up his first run since July 18 against Cleveland, ending a scoreless stretch that lasted 18 appearances. ... Shields was 6-1 with a 2.22 ERA in his previous seven decisions. The right-hander dropped to 2-9 in 12 career starts at Yankee Stadium. He is 7-14 in 26 starts against New York. ... Tampa Bay activated INF Sean Rodriguez (broken right hand) from the disabled list. He entered as a pinch-runner in the seventh and moments later made a fine defensive play at third base. ... LHP Matt Moore (10-10, 3.68 ERA) starts the series finale Sunday against Yankees RHP Hiroki Kuroda (13-10, 3.17).