With two games remaining in this set at Tropicana Field and Yankees veteran Freddy Garcia facing Rays righty Alex Cobb on Tuesday night, each team will turn to its high-powered third baseman to provide a spark amid a fierce race for first place in the American League East.
The division-leading Yankees hold a one-game edge over the Orioles, who are 1 1/2 games ahead of the Rays. Tampa Bay doesn't have time to let Longoria's left hamstring heal completely; he'll likely be in the lineup the rest of the way. Similarly, there was no time to waste leading up to Rodriguez's return, with New York's division lead shrinking from seven games while he spent more than a month on the disabled list with a fractured left hand.
"Like I said when I came back, we are a better team -- we're able to put a better lineup out there -- when I can play third," said Longoria, who went 1-for-4 with an RBI single in the series opener. "So I knew coming down the stretch that I was going to have to play through some discomfort, and this is the time. It feels just fine on a daily basis, and I'm able to go first to third and hit doubles now with no hesitation."
Rodriguez went 0-for-7 with four strikeouts and a walk in two rehab appearances with Class A Advanced Tampa, but he was healthy enough to return against one of New York's toughest competitors, and manager Joe Girardi put the slugger right back in the Yankees' cleanup spot, where he can provide some sort of a threat, even if it takes time to adjust.
The Yankees -- without Rodriguez since July 24, Mark Teixeira since Aug. 28 and Curtis Granderson on Sunday and most of Saturday and Monday -- used four cleanup hitters in the five games prior to Rodriguez's return. Those batters went a combined 3-for-18 with two runs scored and two RBIs.
"Obviously, just the flow of the game -- sometimes it will take a few days to make sure you get back in the swing of things," Rodriguez said. "But I hit cleanup for a reason, and they expect me to do what I do -- be very productive and help this team win. Like I said before I got hurt, it's all about wins. Whether that's a sacrifice fly, drawing a walk or a three-run homer, whatever it takes to make this team better, that's what I'm willing to do."
New York: Granderson returns as pinch-hitter
Granderson struck out swinging as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning on Monday, and Girardi expects the slugger to return from mild tendinitis in his right hamstring to join the Yankees' starting lineup on Tuesday.
Granderson left Saturday's game against Baltimore after the second inning with soreness, and he took batting practice and shagged fly balls in the outfield for the first time prior to Monday's game.
"I really believe he'll be in there [on Tuesday]," Girardi said.
Chris Dickerson started the past two games in center field in Granderson's absence, going 1-for-5 with a two-run home run and a homer-robbing catch on Sunday at Yankee Stadium.
Tampa Bay: Rodriguez expects to be back this season
Infielder Sean Rodriguez fielded grounders before Monday's game, and although he is still unable to throw the ball with his fractured right hand, he expects to be back by the end of the season.
Rodriguez fractured his hand last Tuesday -- a week after the Rays optioned him to Triple-A Durham -- when he punched a locker after a game. He was set to return to the Rays as a September callup, and manager Joe Maddon said Rodriguez would have seen time upon his return.
The 27-year-old Rodriguez hit .215 with 34 runs scored and 32 RBIs in 106 games with the Rays this season, then went 3-for-6 with two doubles and a home run in two Minor League games.
"I made a bone-headed mistake, something that was immature," Rodriguez said. "The fact that everybody in here has to suffer from that [hurts]."
The Yankees announced that their Sept. 22 game against the A's at Yankee Stadium will begin at 1:05 p.m. ET. It is one of only six games the rest of the regular season for New York that isn't against an AL East opponent.
On Monday, the Rays won a game with CC Sabathia on the mound for the third time this season, improving to 9-4 in games started by former Cy Young Award winners this season. They also beat Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke twice, as well as Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee once each.