ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Carl Crawford forced a smile, then giggled.
With their four-time All-Star left fielder unwittingly setting the stage for Reid Brignac’s 11th-inning homer, the Tampa Bay Rays beat the New York Yankees, 1-0, to move into first place in the American League East on Monday night.
Brignac, a rookie infielder, entered the game in Crawford’s spot in the batting order after Crawford was ejected for arguing a called third strike in the ninth.
“I’m glad he got the opportunity,” said Crawford, who was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. “I don’t think I would have done that.”
Brignac connected on a 3-2 pitch from Sergio Mitre (0-3), the last of four relievers who followed CC Sabathia. The left-hander pitched eight scoreless innings in pursuit of what would have been his major league-leading 20th win.
Grant Balfour (2-1) pitched one inning to get the win for the Rays, who pulled ahead of the defending world champions for the division lead by a half game.
“It’s unbelievable. You feel like you’re floating on clouds,” Brignac said, describing the trip around the bases and celebration at home plate. “I had a couple of walkoffs in the minors, but nothing like this.”
The Yankees have lost a season-high four straight and managed just four hits — three off 17-game winner David Price — as the teams began a stretch in which they’ll meet seven times over 11 days. They relinquished first place for just the second day since moving atop the standing on June 20.
New York was swept by Texas in a three-game series that began a nine-game, 10-day road trip.
“It’s tough, especially because we’ve lost three or four like this,” Sabathia said. “It’s been a tough road trip. We need to put this behind us. We’ve been playing tough. We’re not getting the breaks.”
With first place and baseball’s best record on the line, Sabathia and Price were at their best before a crowd of 26,907 – about 10,000 shy of capacity – at Tropicana Field. The left-handers are the top two winners in the AL and showed why, with neither allowing a runner past second base.
Sabathia, who walked two and struck out nine over eight innings, limited the Rays to Kelly Shoppach’s third-inning single until Sean Rodriguez opened the eighth with a sharp grounder into center field for Tampa Bay’s second hit.
After hitting Shoppach with a pitch to put runners at first and second with one out, the Yankees ace struck out B.J. Upton and got Jason Bartlett to ground into a force play to send a scoreless game to the ninth.
Price, second in the AL with 17 wins, allowed three hits, walked two and struck out four over eight innings. He kept the game even, working out of a jam in the seventh by getting Alex Rodriguez to pop to second and Marcus Thames to fly to center after Robinson Cano singled and Mark Teixeira walked with one out.
“Both of them were tremendous,” said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who didn’t have the entire New York bullpen at his disposal with Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson getting an extra day of rest.
“We’ve got to bounce back. We’ve had three tough losses on this road trip, really tough losses,” Girardi added. “But this is a team with a lot of character, and we’ll bounce back.”
It was the second career matchup between Sabathia and Price. They also met last Oct. 2 at Tropicana Field, with Price limiting the Yankees to one run and two hits over seven innings to win 13-4 and deny Sabathia a 20th win in his final start of last season.
Price faced the minimum 18 batters through six innings this time, with Derek Jeter being erased on a double play after a first-inning single and Jorge Posada caught stealing after walking on a 3-1 pitch with two outs in the fifth.