It was a battle of wills, David Price vs. Alex Rodriguez with the bases loaded and one out and the game very much in the balance.
Price, pitching with a four-run lead, went after Rodriguez in the fifth inning Thursday night at Yankee Stadium, and Rodriguez stayed alive by fouling off curveball after curveball after curveball.
Finally, on the 11th pitch of the at-bat, Rodriguez swung and missed.
It was as big a moment as Price has faced this season, and he passed. His reward: Robinson Cano came to bat with two outs.
Those looking for reasons why the Tampa Bay Rays are hanging out at the top of the division despite an under-performing offense and a leaky defense need to look no farther than the pitching.
Price, who got Cano to ground out to end the threat, gave the team five innings and the bullpen picked up the rest as the Rays won, 7-3, and climbed back into a tie for first with the Orioles.
The win was the Rays' fourth in their last 10 games as they salvaged the final game of the three-game series.
Price made it possible, and it started with that fifth-inning duel with Rodriguez.
"That was the game," manager Joe Maddon said. "That game could have gone the other way had (Rodriguez) walked or gotten a hit at that point, I really thought so, because it would have been very frustrating for David to lose that battle and move on to a guy who's also really, really good."
Price saw his career-high and current major league-best streak of six starts with at least seven innings pitched end. But the Yankees made Price work for those five innings. He threw 106 pitches, including 38 during his final inning when he allowed a single and walked two to put himself in the jam.
Rodriguez (five) and Cano (two) combined to foul off seven two-strike pitches.
Price, who won for the eighth time this season, allowed three hits, a run and struck out eight.
Maddon's reshuffled batting order, which had Elliot Johnson hitting leadoff followed by the slumping Ben Zobrist, Desmond Jennings and B.J. Upton, worked.
The Rays totaled 10 hits for the first time in 13 games. Their streak of 12 games without reaching double digits in hits was the longest streak of its kind this season in the majors and matched the franchise record for the longest such streak during one season set in 2008.
This after the Rays managed eight hits in the first two games of the series.
Zobrist ended an 0-for-9 slide in the Bronx with an RBI single in the third inning. Jennings followed with a double and Upton drove Zobrist with a sacrifice fly.
That gave the Rays a 3-1 advantage, a lead made possible by an RBI single in the third inning by Jose Lobaton. The catcher, who entered the game with only four hits this season, was facing CC Sabathia for the first time in his brief big-league career. He had two singles, scored a run and drew a walk against the Yankees ace.
Drew Sutton, who batted ninth, made it a 5-1 game with a two-run double in the fourth.
Sabathia has had better nights against the Rays. Still, he managed to strike out 12 in seven innings. Also, two of those runs were unearned.
Wade Davis replaced Price in the sixth inning and tossed two perfect innings. He struck out the last four batters he faced.
Despite all their troubles during the first two games of the series, the Rays open a three-game series in Miami tonight with a share of the division lead.
"How does that happen?" Maddon asked after the game.
Because of the pitching.
"David was outstanding," Maddon said.