ST. PETERSBURG -- One swing produced three runs. Another produced three outs. Both played prominent roles in the Rays' 5-3 win over the Yankees on Tuesday night at Tropicana Field to keep their postseason hopes alive.
With the victory, Tampa Bay moved to 90-71, earning the right to play for the American League Wild Card spot on the final day of the regular season. Boston (90-71) hung on to claim an 8-7 win over Baltimore on Tuesday night, which means if one club wins and one club loses on Wednesday, the loser's season is over. If both the Rays and Sox have the same result, there will be a one-game playoff at Tropicana Field on Thursday at 4:07 p.m. ET.
The Rays trailed, 3-2, heading into the bottom of the seventh when former Rays closer Rafael Soriano was brought in to pitch for the Yankees. B.J. Upton drew a leadoff walk and stole second before Evan Longoria walked to bring Matt Joyce to the plate.
"I'm sure [after Upton stole second], Rafael thought at this point, there's no sense in messing with Longo," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "And eventually, here comes Matt."
Joyce played in pain Tuesday night after fouling a ball off his right foot in Monday night's game. Entering the game, he had hit just one home run in his previous 29 games, and that had come 23 days earlier.
Facing a 1-0 count, Joyce turned on Soriano's next pitch, sending a drive into the right-field stands. Joyce pumped his fist while rounding first, and the raucous home crowd of 22,820 erupted.
"It was probably one of the most exciting times you can possibly have on a baseball field -- in our town, two games left in the season, everything riding on the line, you're down a run, you know it was just a big hit," Joyce said. "We've had a chance for everyone to chip in all year, and everybody's done a great job of sharing those big hits.
"For me, I was struggling at the plate and a bunch of the guys kept picking me up saying, 'You're going to come through, you're going to get a big hit. Just relax, calm down.' It's awesome to be a part of a team that really pulls together."
Joyce's home run was his first three-run home run since his first dinger of the season, on April 29 against the Angels. Prior to Joyce's blast, the Rays were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.
The Yankees had tied the game at 2 in the fifth when Curtis Granderson hit into a double play that allowed Brett Gardner to score from third. They then took the lead in the sixth when Nick Swisher doubled off Jeremy Hellickson to drive home Alex Rodriguez. And the Yankees were perched on the brink of a big inning after they loaded the bases with no outs.
But Hellickson managed to escape the jam when Russell Martin grounded into a 5-4-3 triple play, the third triple play in Rays history. Not only did the rare feat allow Tampa Bay to exhale, it drew an emotional reaction from the normally stone-faced rookie.
"I didn't know what to do," Hellickson said. "I was real excited. Went from being a four-or five-run inning to one; that was huge for us."
Hellickson got a no-decision after allowing three runs on six hits. Though he didn't get his 14th win, he did finish an impressive string that saw him go 2-0 with a 2.67 ERA in five straight starts against AL East opponents to end the year, all coming in September.
Hellickson wasn't the only rookie to shine Tuesday night. Jake McGee and Brandon Gomes pitched the seventh and eighth innings, respectively, allowing no runs and just one baserunner.
"I've watched Jake, how much he's grown this season, and I watch Gomer, how much he's grown this season also," Maddon said. "Neither one was intimidated by the moment, both throwing strikes.
"Actually Gomer is throwing harder now than he has all season. Jake just seems to be throwing more quality strikes in better spots, better locations, but the makeup is what really stands out to me, and that's why you feel comfortable throwing them out there in those moments."
Kyle Farnsworth set the Yankees down in order in the ninth to preserve the win while earning his 25th save of the season.
Johnny Damon singled to right-center field to start the second, moving him past Lou Gehrig into sole possession of 57th place on the all-time hits list with 2,722. Not only did Damon collect yet another special career achievement -- which he has done all season while wearing a Rays uniform -- he also put a runner on the bases, which proved crucial when Ben Zobrist connected off Bartolo Colon for his 20th home run of the season, a moon shot that cleared the wall in right.
Even though the Yankees clinched the AL East crown Wednesday in New York when they swept the Rays in a doubleheader, manager Joe Girardi disputed the notion that playing the games when they hold no significance is a difficult position to be in.
"These games matter to me," Girardi said. "Our players and I are doing everything the same that we do every day."
Meanwhile, the Rays went to bed Tuesday night knowing that Wednesday could be their final game of the season or it could be a special day. Maddon smiled when a reporter commented that he could be popping champagne at the same time on Wednesday night.
"I hope so," Maddon said. "That would be outstanding. I'm a good partier."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.