The Yankees paid tribute to Bob Sheppard and George Steinbrenner prior to Friday night’s divisional showdown between the Rays and the Yankees. Sheppard and Steinbrenner passed away this week.

The Yankees celebrated Steinbrenner’s accomplishments by doing a video montage of him. After the montage, the fans gave a heartfelt standing ovation. Mariano Rivera put roses on home plate to honor Steinbrenner, and Derek Jeter spoke about the bombastic Yankees owner and the soft-spoken public address announcer.

Steinbrenner would have been proud of the festivities, and he would have been proud of the way his team played in their 5-4 victory over the Rays. Steinbrenner always talked about how he is proud of his team when they don’t give up. That was the case of last night’s game. The Yankees trailed for the early part of the game, but they managed to cut the deficit, tie it, and win it in the end.

The Rays helped pave the way for the Yankees to make this comeback possible. The Rays could have put the game away if they did not strand runners at third several times during the middle innings. It proved to be costly in the end.

There was a feeling the Yankees were going to make the Rays pay for not maximizing their opportunity, and it proved to be true. They tied the game at three in the sixth inning on solo home runs by Robinson Cano and Jorge Posada. After the Rays took a 4-3 lead in the seventh inning, the Yankees tied it at four when Nick Swisher homered off Rays setup man Joaquin Benoit in the eighth inning.

From there, the Yankees were not going to be denied. David Robertson and Mariano Rivera shut down the Rays hitters, and the Yankees celebrated with a victory on Swisher’s single in the ninth inning.

Here’s what the Rays or any baseball team must understand when they play the Yankees. When the opportunity is there to end the game, the Yankees opponent
must finish off the Yankees. They are only asking for trouble by not getting it done. That was the case for the Rays last night.

Give CC Sabathia credit for pitching his team out of a jam several times, but championship teams know how to end it when the opportunity is there. As good as the Rays are, they are not ready to be a championship team just yet. The Rays fail whenever it’s time to execute with runners in scoring position.

Too many times, the Rays tend to let the opposing pitcher off the hook whenever he is in a jam. Friday night’s game was a typical example of that. This may work against the bad teams, but against the Yankees and the Red Sox, it becomes an epic fail.

The Yankees are the opposite in this situation. Let’s say the Yankees took a 3-1 lead and they had a chance to end the game in the fifth inning with runners at second and third or with the bases loaded. Know what they would have done? They would make the pitcher pay for his mistakes, and end it right there.

That’s what the Yankees do. They find a way to win even if it looks like they are out of it or if a pitcher overpowers them with stuff. They are the only team that knows how to beat elite pitchers in baseball. It’s no wonder why they won a championship last year, and why they can do it again.

Talk about buying talent, but it takes a special team to come together and know how to win games. The Yankees have a knack of doing just that. They did that during the mid-to-late nineties, and they discovered that magic back last year.

Let’s tell it like it is. The Yankees outsmarted the Rays. They knew how to get the home runs, and they knew how to put the runners in a position to score.

This was a disappointing loss to say the least. When the Rays have their worst pitcher starting in this series and he pitched well until he lost it in the sixth inning, this is one the Rays should not have let get away. It’s easy to go blame James Shields for giving up home runs to Cano and Posada and tying the game, but it’s not Shields’ fault that he had to pitch with no room for error in the sixth inning.

Maybe Shields goes eight innings if this game was a 5-1 game. The Rays had an opportunity to pick Shields up when the game was tied at three. They did, but they should have gotten more than one run in that seventh inning.

Whenever a team wins the first game of the series, they have a better chance of winning the series. Now, the Rays need to find a way to win today or else they could be in a position to get swept on Sunday. If the Rays get swept, the Yankees don’t have to pay attention to what the Rays are doing anymore with a nice cushion lead in the division.

The Yankees talk about how they respect the Rays publicly, but privately, they look at the Rays as a cute little team. That’s not meant to be a compliment. The Yankees don’t respect anyone. Why should they? Champions never pay attention to other teams. They are arrogant enough to think if they play their game, they are going to win.

The Yankees earned the right to act that way. When a team wins many championships, there’s no reason to fear the other team. Until teams figure out a way to beat the Yankees consistently, the Yankees will go use that approach.

It’s up to the Rays to change that perception. So far, they are 3-3 against the Bronx Bombers, but it’s not going to make the Yankees fear them. Even if the Rays went 6-0 against the Yankees so far this season, the Yankees will not change their approach.

For that to change, the Rays need to beat them more often than not. Last night was winnable. A message could have been sent that the Rays are a team the Yankees need to take seriously.

Just like that, the Yankees have a chance now to take the series or get a sweep. That team is finally healthy, and most of their players are peaking at the right time. The second half is where a team distances themselves from the competition in the division.

It’s up to the Rays to make it a race. They get two more cracks at it this weekend.

Here’s hoping the Rays know how to pad in some runs in case they have a lead. No lead is ever safe with the Yankees.

The Rays had an opportunity to show they can be in the Yankees’ level, but on this night, they showed the Yankees they have ways to go until they reach that level.

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