ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- With Gary Sheffield and Mariano
Rivera healthy again, the New York Yankees look even more
formidable in their quest for the best record in the American
League and homefield advantage in the playoffs.
A "nervous" Sheffield returned to the lineup for the first
time since May 29 and made an impressive debut at first base Friday
night. The ever steady Rivera earned his 34th save in his first
appearance since Aug. 31, helping the AL East champions beat the
Tampa Bay Devil Rays 4-1.
"I'm treating this like the World Series right now because I've
got to be ready when it comes to the playoffs," Sheffield said,
conceding he had some anxious moments in his first game at a new
"He was nervous," shortstop Derek Jeter said of the longtime
outfielder. "He said he doesn't remember being that nervous
Rivera, meanwhile, shrugged off some initial rust and struck out
the side around a broken-bat single and a hit batter in the ninth.
"I was anxious. I couldn't wait to pitch," said Rivera,
sidelined with a strained right forearm. "I'm happy I went in
there and finished the way I wanted."
Sheffield, who had seven putouts, saved a run with the score
tied 1-1 by scooping third baseman Miguel Cairo's low throw out of
the dirt to end the sixth with a runner on third. He also handled a
low throw from Jeter in the fourth.
"It looked like he had been there a lot longer than just
working out this past week," Yankees manager Joe Torre said.
"I thought he reacted real well to when the ball was hit.
That's what you really have to get used to. When you're playing
third or playing short or the outfield and the ball is hit to
somebody, you watch it unless it's hit to you. But as a first
baseman, when the ball is hit you've got to go to the bag. He
didn't have any trouble reacting to that."
The nine-time All-Star went 0-for-3 before leaving the game
after the Yankees took a three-run lead in the seventh.
"Sheff is a good athlete, that's the thing. He came up as a
shortstop. He played some third," Jeter said. "Footwork, knowing
where to be, that will take a while for him to get used to."
Robinson Cano and Aaron Guiel homered to back starter Chien-Ming
Wang (18-6), who allowed six hits in seven innings, including Rocco
Baldelli's solo homer in the first. He struck out four to improve
3-0 this season against Tampa Bay.
The victory in New York's first game since clinching its ninth
straight division title on Wednesday night improved the Yankees'
record to 93-60. The last-place Devil Rays tied an AL record by
losing for the 57th time after holding a lead.
"They've got a nice thing going on. They're healthy. They're
playing probably better than anybody else in the league right
now," Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "They're playing at a
high level, and everybody's getting well for them at the right
Sheffield missed 103 games during his second stint on the
disabled list this season with a wrist injury. He had surgery June
13, and worked out at first base during his rehabilitation.
With the division title in hand, the Yankees gave the night off
to Alex Rodriguez, Hideki Matsui and Bobby Abreu. Johnny Damon was
scratched as a precaution for the second straight game after
cutting his throwing hand making a diving catch at Toronto on
Tuesday, and Jason Giambi may sit out the entire four-game series
with a small ligament tear in his left wrist.
"I hope this will do the trick and I can get back to playing at
the same caliber I was before," Giambi said. "That's what we're
going to need come playoff time."
How well Sheffield does at first base could impact the Yankees'
postseason roster. If the move works out, Matsui could move back to
left field and Giambi ideally would enter the playoffs as the
James Shields (6-8) retired the first 10 Yankees before Cano
homered with one out in the fourth.
The Yankees broke the tie in the seventh. Bernie Williams
singled with one out and scored on Guiel's first homer since July
25. Cairo singled for the third straight hit off Shields and scored
when Melky Cabrera doubled.
Shields allowed four runs and eight hits in seven innings. He
struck out six and walked none.
Injured pitcher Carl Pavano rejoined the Yankees after working
out at the team's spring training complex in Tampa, Fla. He hasn't
pitched in the major leagues since June 2005 because of shoulder,
back, buttocks and elbow injuries. "Nobody's saying he wasn't hurt," Torre said. "I think he's
got to understand what his priority is. The fact that baseball is
something right now that's got to be his life. Come to spring
training and be ready from Day 1." ... Jeter had a bunt single in the eighth, giving him his fifth
200-hit season. He and Lou Gehrig (eight) are the only players in
franchise history with at least four. ... Yankees RHP Kyle
Farnsworth warmed up in the eighth but was unable to pitch because
of back tightness, a problem he's had off and on this year. ... The
2002 Tigers also lost 57 games in which they led. The major league
record is 66 by the 1998 Marlins. ... Devil Rays 2B Jorge Cantu was
scratched from the lineup with a fever.