After the bullpen-draining 14-inning game the night before, Joe Girardi was blunt assessing the significance of Masahiro Tanaka giving him some distance Saturday.
"It's important," Girardi said, "because we'll be without some guys today."
Tanaka, though hardly dominant, gave the Yankees what they needed, seven decent innings in a 9-3 victory over the Rays in front of 43,325 at the Stadium.
Tanaka allowed three runs and eight hits, including two homers, with five strikeouts in improving to 4-0. Tanaka has not lost a regular season game since Aug. 19, 2012 when he was with the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan.
Tanaka turned it over in the eighth to Dellin Betances, who continued his strong start to the season with a scoreless inning. After the Yankees opened it up with a three-run eighth, Preston Claiborne pitched a scoreless ninth.
The Yankees offense, meanwhile, performed far better than Friday night when it stranded 13.
Mark Teixeira's recent surge continued as he went 2-for-4, including his fourth homer in five games, with three RBI. Jacoby Ellsbury continued his season-long surge, going 3-for-4 with an RBI, raising his average to .346. Ichiro Suzuki doubled twice and drove in a run, raising his average to a team-best .375, and Brett Gardner went 2-for-5, his two-run single in the eighth giving the Yankees (16-13) a 9-3 lead.
The Rays (14-17) got to Tanaka early, not surprising given Tanaka's splits this season.
Entering the game, opponents were 12-for-42 (.286) with two homers against Tanaka during their first time through the lineup and just 15-for-90 (.167) after that.
Leadoff man Ben Zobrist flew to center to start the game before Desmond Jennings cracked his fourth homer of the season, driving a 2-and-1 fastball into the Yankees' bullpen in right-center to make it 1-0.
James Loney led off the second with a single and, with one out, went to third when David DeJesus hit a ground smash off Tanaka's left foot. (Tanaka, apparently ok, waved Girardi and the trainer to stay in the dugout).
The righthander retired Sean Rodriguez on a pop out, but Ryan Hanigan sent a ground shot off the glove of a diving Kelly Johnson at third, the RBI single bringing in Loney to make it 2-0.
Wil Myers led off the third by poking an opposite-field shot down the right field line that landed in the first row of seats for his third homer of the season and a 3-0 lead.
Teixeira started the Yankees' comeback with one out and one on in the fourth, laying into Jake Odorizzi's first pitch fastball and driving it into the second deck in right for his fourth homer in his last five games and fifth in the last eight contests.
The Yankees tied in the fifth, an inning in which they probably should have come away with more. Ichiro led off with a double to left-center and Yangervis Solarte walked. Ellsbury followed with his second hit of the game, a double to left-center that brought in Ichiro to tie at 3-3. Rays manager Joe Maddon brought on left Cesar Ramos to face Gardner with runners at second and third and none out. Ramos got out of the jam, striking out Gardner and, after an intentional walk to Teixeira, Brian McCann as well. Alfonso Soriano grounded to short to end the inning.
Kelly Johnson's fourth homer of the season, a solo shot in the sixth off Josh Lueke, gave the Yankees the lead for good at 4-3. Teixeira's RBI single and Soriano's sacrifice fly in the seventh made it 6-3.