ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Hank Steinbrenner vented. Joe Girardi held a pregame team meeting. The struggling New York Yankees responded with a win.
Mike Mussina has seen it all before.
“It helps being here eight years, and knowing this stuff happens a lot,” he said after Wednesday night’s 2-1 victory stopped Tampa Bay’s six-game winning streak and lifted New York (20-21) back within one game of .500.
“There’s huge expectations here, and we have our own huge expectations,” Mussina added. “We haven’t played anywhere close to them. Sometimes you just have to get together and talk, that’s all.”
Robinson Cano went 4-for-4, raising his batting average over .200 for the first time since the season opener, and Mussina (6-3) allowed one run and five hits over 6 1-3 innings to win his fifth consecutive start.
The right-hander improved to 18-7 in 31 starts against Tampa Bay, which held on to its slender lead in the AL East.
Girardi held a 35-minute team meeting before the game, however the manager said it had nothing to do with Steinbrenner’s comments earlier in the day — the co-chairman said the team needs to play harder and smarter.
“Nobody is thinking about any words the owner says while you’re playing. We need to win games,” Yankees captain Derek Jeter said. “Whether or not he said anything, or we didn’t have a meeting, we need to win. Everybody realizes that.”
Cano, who’s batting .205, tied a career high with four hits, including a RBI single in the fourth. Bobby Abreu drove in New York’s other run off James Shields (4-3) with a two-out double in the fifth.
Joba Chamberlain struck out the side in the eighth — and didn’t pump his fist. Mariano Rivera bounced back from allowing the winning run in an 11-inning loss the previous night with a perfect ninth for his 11th save in 11 opportunities.
“We have to go out there and fight. Just don’t give it up,” Rivera said. “If you’re going to beat us, you’re going to earn it.”
Tampa Bay’s loss snapped a franchise-best 11-game home winning streak. But the first-place Rays retained a half-game lead over Boston in the division, thanks to Baltimore beating the Red Sox 6-3.
“It’s one game. Expectations are high. I like it. I like that everybody’s upset tonight,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “We played well. We lost. They beat us, but we have a chance to take the series (Thursday), so we’ve got to be ready to go at that point.”
Girardi declined to offer details about the Yankees meeting except to say it came from his “heart.”
“The effort of the club has been good,” he said. “When you don’t score runs, you don’t look good. We bring energy every day, but the bottom line is it has to translate into wins.”
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