NEW YORK -- You don't hear the Yankees being asked anymore if Andy Pettitte will be able to succeed at the big league level. He's proven that this comeback is no fluke. What everyone wants to know is how long he can keep dominating like this.
Pettitte received another well-deserved standing ovation following another vintage performance and Russell Martin provided the thunder with his fourth career grand slam as the Yankees trounced the Rays, 7-0, on Tuesday at Yankee Stadium.
"I feel like I'm going to be how I was when I left," said Pettitte, who struck out a season-high 10 over 7 1/3 stellar innings. "You don't really know what to expect coming back, but I'm obviously pleasantly surprised so far."
Just 10 days shy of his 40th birthday, Pettitte made it easy to forget that he spent most of last year tossing batting practice to his sons outside their Texas home. The Rays seemed baffled by the veteran, who has wielded a biting slider as a useful weapon.
"I feel like on days that he pitches, it gives a different energy to the team," Martin said. "It's remarkable. It seems like he hasn't missed a beat."
Pettitte's 243rd career victory helped inch the Yankees closer to first place in the American League East, which has the Rays and Orioles leading New York by a half-game. The suddenly surging Yankees have won four of their last five games and nine of their last 12.
"We're basically in control of our own destiny, which is a good thing," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "We'll start putting together some better streaks."
Martin led the attack against Rays starter James Shields with his fourth-inning grand slam, the catcher's first slam since the Yankees' historic game last Aug. 25 against the Athletics in which Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano also hit grand slams.
"Any time you get a shutout, you feel like you've done what you're supposed to do as a catcher," Martin said. "If you can contribute, hit a home run -- a grand slam -- against a tough pitcher, that's even better."
Tampa Bay managed just two singles and two walks off Pettitte, who has won three of his four starts in the Bronx this year.
"He did a great job; he was throwing a lot of strikes," the Rays' Carlos Pena said. "And his breaking pitches were very effective today. When they weren't strikes, they looked like strikes, and he got a lot of swings. I thought he did an outstanding job. We have to tip our hats to him, because he was devastating today and he beat us."
Pettitte credited a slight adjustment that pitching coach Larry Rothschild spotted in the bullpen before the game, but he declined to elaborate. Regardless, he said that he has been thrilled to enjoy such success at this early point in the season.
"I want to be a positive impact on this team," Pettitte said. "I felt like I could be, and that's why I came back. I think the guys enjoy when I pitch. I think sometimes I'm an amusement for them also."
Asked why, Pettitte chuckled and replied, "It's just, I'm old, I guess. I know that we have a good time, and they enjoy making fun of me a little bit."
New York scored two unearned runs in the first inning off Shields, who was hit for seven runs (five earned) and seven hits in five innings.
The first two runs came in on shortstop Elliot Johnson's throwing error on a Raul Ibanez grounder, permitting Granderson and Alex Rodriguez to trot home.
That miscue highlighted an uncharacteristic recent stretch for Rays manager Joe Maddon's club, which had committed 22 errors in its last 21 games entering play on Tuesday.
"We just didn't have a good night," Maddon said. "We didn't really play any area of the game well."
In the bottom of the fourth, two walks and a Nick Swisher single loaded the bases for Martin, who has been battling an extended offensive slump and entered the game batting .194. Martin got around on Shields' 0-2 pitch and lined it into the right-field seats.
"Down, 0-2, against Shields, you're not thinking about hitting a homer," Martin said. "I just got a good pitch out over the plate, just trying to protect, and the next thing I know, it's in the bleachers."
The Yankees added a seventh run in the fifth inning off Shields, as Swisher delivered a run-scoring double following an intentional walk to Ibanez. Shields walked four and struck out two, losing for the third time in four starts.
"Physically, he's great -- he's fine," Maddon said. "He's just not pitching to the spots like he normally does when he's really good."
Hideki Matsui, crowned the World Series MVP on this diamond in 2009, returned to Yankee Stadium batting cleanup for the Rays and received a warm applause. Matsui was hitless in three at-bats against Pettitte, dropping to 1-for-9 lifetime facing his former teammate.
Freddy Garcia recorded the last five outs as Pettitte improved to 17-6 lifetime against Tampa Bay. The left-hander was reminded that he has one start remaining in his 30s -- not that he has plans of slowing down any time soon.
"It's all in your mind, right?" Pettitte said. "Raul told me he felt he's alive still. He turned 40 the other day in Detroit and he goes, 'It ain't that bad.'"