Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher, Johnny Damon and Derek Jeter all know the secret to success at the new Yankee Stadium: Hit the ball in the air to right field.
Four more home runs by the Yankees at baseball's $1.5 billion bandbox -- all to right field -- backed Andy Pettitte in a 5-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday night , the start of what figures to be a challenging week for New York.
“I just think we didn't hit enough balls to right-center. There's a conveyor-belt effect out there,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “It's kind of like a jet stream.”
Teixeira's solo homer in the first and Swisher's two-run drive in the second built a 3-0 lead, but the Rays tied the score in the fourth after Alex Rodriguez bobbled Ben Zobrist's leadoff grounder to third for an error. Michel Hernandez had an RBI single and Gabe Kapler followed with a two-run homer to left, Kapler's first home run since Sept. 7 for Milwaukee off San Diego's Chris Young.
Solo homers by Damon in the sixth and Jeter in the eighth finished Andy Sonnanstine (4-6), who gave up four homers for the first time in his big league career and dropped to 1-6 on the road.
There have been 105 homers in 29 games at the new ballpark, a sharp increase from the 160 last season at the original Yankee Stadium, and 63 have been hit to right and right-center. New York won despite finishing with just six hits -- and no plate appearances with runners in scoring position for the first time since May 14, 2006.
“This team hasn't been textbook all year,” Damon said. “As long as we get the hits and they fly out of the ballpark, it's a good thing.”
It was the 10th game of five or more homers at Yankee Stadium.
New York improved the AL's best record to 34-23, opened a one-game AL East lead over second-place Boston and improved to 21-0 when allowing three runs or fewer. The Yankees headed to Boston after the game for a three-game series against the Red Sox, who are 5-0 against New York this year. The Yankees return home for a weekend Subway Series against the Mets.
“Obviously we would like to get payback and say all that good stuff, but we have to go out and play well,” Damon said.
Damon wasn't sure his homer would make it. Nine of Damon's 12 home runs this season and six of Jeter's eight have come at home.
“I just have to remember that I am strong and my will could will the ball out,” Damon said humorously.
Pettitte (6-2) allowed three runs -- two earned -- and five hits in six innings, striking out a season-high seven. After walking 11 in his previous two starts, he cut his bases on balls to three.
Phil Hughes, bumped to the bullpen so Chien-Ming Wang could rejoin the rotation, followed with a 1-2-3 seventh in his first major league regular-season relief outing after 28 starts.
“Whatever it is, I'm ready to go,” Hughes said.