NEW YORK -- After treading water for the past week, the Rays' 7-3 win over the Yankees felt like a gift from the baseball gods.
A Yankee Stadium crowd of 39,891 would have testified they were watching a different Rays team Thursday night than the one the Yankees defeated in the first two games of the series, when the Rays scored just one run and tallied a paltry eight hits while committing three errors in 18 innings.
Thursday night the Rays had 10 hits and continued to put offensive pressure on the Yankees until the end of the game.
"The bats turned around tonight," B.J. Upton said. "This game is not easy. We've been struggling at the plate a little bit as a team. It's good to see us come together tonight and put some things together, especially against a guy like [Yankees starter CC Sabathia]."
The Rays moved from third place in the American League East back into a tie with the Orioles for first, while the Yankees fell to second place.
"How does that happen?" said Rays manager Joe Maddon, who seemed perplexed that his team was back in first despite its recent play. "We came back tonight, played a much better game."
Thursday night matched two of the marquee left-handers in baseball when David Price squared off against Sabathia in a game that began 26 minutes late due to rain. While Sabathia would finish with 12 strikeouts in seven innings, the Rays got after the Yankees ace early.
Upton doubled off Sabathia to lead off the second and two outs later scored on Jose Lobaton's single to right to give the Rays a 1-0 lead.
"This guy you've got to be aggressive against," Upton said. "If you get a good pitch to hit against him, you can't miss it."
The Yankees tied the game in the bottom of the second, but the Rays' offense answered with two in the top of the third on an RBI single by Ben Zobrist and a sacrifice fly by Upton. The Rays then took a 5-1 lead in the fourth, when Drew Sutton seemed to golf a Sabathia offering into the left-field corner to drive home two.
"I really don't know how I hit that one," Sutton said. "You look at the video, it's probably six inches off the ground. He's probably wondering how I hit it, too. It was the same pitch he struck me out on in my first at-bat."
Price made his bones in the fifth, when the Yankees loaded the bases with one out. The Rays left-hander bowed up to strike out Alex Rodriguez with a 79-mph curveball to end an 11-pitch at-bat. Robinson Cano then grounded out to second to end the threat.
"We got ahead, 1-2, and he was fouling off some pretty good curveballs," said Price about Rodriguez's at-bat. "And I called [catcher] Lobaton out there and told him I want to stick with it. Keep throwing that to him. That's the best my curveball's been all year and I wanted to stick with it. I was able to throw a good one, and he swung over the top of it."
Price threw 38 pitches in the fifth to move his pitch total to 109 for the game, thereby orchestrating his exodus.
While Price fell one inning short of a quality start, the outing felt like one, given his fifth-inning heroics combined with the fact that he held the Yankees to one run on three hits while striking out eight and lowering his ERA to 2.40 in the process.
He became the first American League pitcher to reach eight victories this season.
"David was outstanding, only threw five innings, but it was almost like he threw a complete game," Maddon said. "... Just an outstanding performance, he was like dripping wet coming off the mound. He wanted to go back out [for the sixth], but I said, 'That's it, you're spent right now, that's great.'"
Nick Swisher said Price resembled "the old Price" for the first three or four innings.
"A lot of fastballs, just trying to throw it as hard as he could," Swisher said. "Then he started pitching there, kind of toward the middle of the game. It makes it tough. He's throwing 97, 98 miles an hour, and then he comes out and decides he just wants to start pitching. We've got to remember that, because we never know what guy we're going to get."
Wade Davis followed Price and overpowered the Yankees, retiring the six batters he faced while striking out four to take the Rays to the eighth.
"It was just incredibly gifted the way [Davis] pitched tonight," Maddon said.
Like any time the Rays go to the Bronx, there was some suspense right up until the end.
Jake McGee issued a one-out walk in the eighth, and Cano followed with a single before Joel Peralta took over. The crafty right-hander struck out Swisher before pinch-hitter Raul Ibanez singled home a run to cut the lead to 5-2. Peralta then retired pinch-hitter Eric Chavez on a groundout to first to end the threat.
Sutton and Elliot Johnson added RBI doubles in the ninth to give the Rays a 7-2 lead. Russell Martin then hit a solo home run off J.P. Howell to lead off the Yankees' ninth to cut the lead to 7-3. Howell retired the next two hitters he faced before hitting Mark Teixeira, which prompted Maddon to bring in closer Fernando Rodney, who retired Rodriguez on a flyout to right to end the game.
Thursday night's win "was big," Price said.
"That was a huge win for us coming in here," he said. "It's never easy to win any games. We lost the first two with [Andy] Pettitte and [Ivan] Nova, and going against CC on the getaway day is never easy."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.