ST. PETERSBURG -- For the Yankees, the last three games of the year constitute a tuneup series to prepare for the American League Division Series, as evidenced by the loud laughs in their clubhouse after the game.
Everyone, it seemed, had something to feel good about on a festive Monday at Tropicana Field. Certainly, the Rays did, posting a 5-2 victory that vaulted Tampa Bay into a tie with the Red Sox for the American League Wild Card.
"I actually saw one of their players look at the scoreboard when there was a loud cheer today," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. "That probably wouldn't happen on a normal day. And they should be excited."
A Robinson Cano homer and run-scoring single accounted for most of the offense against right-hander James Shields, who finished one out shy of a complete game and picked up his 16th win of the season.
After Shields scattered six hits, former Yankee Kyle Farnsworth polished off the final out for his 24th save.
Many in the crowd of 18,772 hung around to witness the end of Boston's loss at Baltimore, celebrated with a loud blaring horn that could be heard echoing in New York's clubhouse.
"This is our playoffs right now," Shields said. "This is what baseball is all about. We're right back in the thick of things."
The Yankees weren't complaining. In fact, they had other things to get to: The veterans had planned the annual rookie hazing for Sunday, but it was postponed because of the team's late travels to Florida after a day-night doubleheader.
The theme was pop music of the 1980s, and after making his second spot start of the year, right-hander Hector Noesi was affixing a black wig and donning a frilly purple outfit to be the team's faux Prince.
Hours before he was posing for photos with "Little Red Corvette" blaring, Noesi permitted three runs on five hits, including two wild pitches, and didn't record an out in the third inning.
B.J. Upton ripped a two-run double and Johnny Damon followed a pitching change with an RBI single off left-hander Raul Valdes, putting Tampa Bay ahead with his 2,721st career hit to tie Lou Gehrig on baseball's all-time list.
That was enough, as Shields otherwise gave the Rays everything they needed to even the Wild Card race as the free-falling Red Sox have just two days remaining to kill their September swoon.
"These guys are not mailing anything in at this point," Rays manager Joe Maddon said of the Yankees. "They deserved to have won 97 games this year. They're a very good ballclub. And even their J.V. team is pretty good, too."
New York worked right-hander Phil Hughes -- sidelined since Sept. 12 with back issues -- into the game with a 1 2/3-inning relief appearance that included a hit, two walks and one strikeout.
Hughes felt no ill effects as he transitions into a relief role for the postseason, and he's expected to make another appearance in Wednesday's regular-season finale.
"It was good," Hughes said. "Physically, I felt good; the back was a non-issue. I wasn't locating perfectly, but overall, it felt pretty good."
Kelly Shoppach belted a long homer off Valdes in the fourth, his 11th, to extend Tampa Bay's lead, and Damon lifted a sacrifice fly facing Luis Ayala in the seventh.
The outcome didn't put a damper on the Yankees' spirits, as catcher Russell Martin couldn't contain a gleeful smirk in the raucous clubhouse -- this, even after being ejected in the fifth inning.
As Martin explained, the Yankees had an issue with home-plate umpire Paul Schrieber's strike zone while Hughes pitched in the fifth inning, and Martin spoke up while in his catching crouch.
"Did you stretch before the game?" Martin said he asked Schrieber, speaking through his mask.
Schrieber circled to the front of plate and asked Martin what he'd said.
"I'm like, 'I feel like you're kind of tight right now,'" Martin recalled. "And he tossed me. I was like, 'What happened? I thought this was fun. I thought this was a game.'"
The ejection was the fourth of Martin's career, his first as a Yankee, and certainly the first time -- Martin said -- that he was run for showing off a sense of humor.
"We can't talk anymore?" Martin said. "I wasn't angry. I was a little shocked that I got thrown out. My intention wasn't to make him feel bad or anything. I was just trying to get him to laugh or something, you know?"