Originally posted on Pro Sports Daily  |  Last updated 9/6/12

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The “master plan,” said Alex Rodriguez, is back “in order."

A pre-game team meeting, a hard-fought win and an aggressive style of offense apparently did wonders for the New York Yankees on Wednesday, as they salvaged the final game of a three-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays, 6-4 at Tropicana Field and retook sole possession of first place in the American League East.

Russell Martin homered and knocked in three runs and New York exploited a rare defensive breakdown by Tampa Bay to steady itself after blowing a 10-game division lead since July 18. With the win, New York opened a one-game lead on Baltimore, which lost at Toronto, and a 2.5-game bulge on the Rays.

Tampa Bay had won four consecutively while New York, which held a players’ meeting before the game, had dropped 10 of its last 14.

“Any night we win it’s a relief. If we’re 0-0 and we win it’s a relief,” said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. “It’s a good feeling, but they know we have a lot of business to take care of.”

The Yankees commence a crucial four-game series in Baltimore at Oriole Park on Thursday. Rodriguez was especially encouraged on Wednesday, though, that the Yankees used the “small ball” style often decisive in the postseason.

“It was sink or swim tonight,” Rodriguez said, “and in order for us to swim, we’re going to have to swim the right way.”

New York took a 6-4 lead in the seventh when Rays starter Matt Moore faltered against the bottom of the Yankee order and Elliot Johnson’s two-run throwing error proved decisive. The Yankees got consecutive singles by Andruw Jones – who entered the game batting .201 – and Steve Pearce (.143) before a sacrifice bunt sent them both to scoring position. Reliever Kyle Farnsworth induced a grounder to second by Derek Jeter (3-for-5), but Johnson, starting at second for the first time since May, fired home extremely wide.

The miscue capped a forgettable game for Johnson, who earlier dropped a Jeter pop that led to a run, and botched a squeeze bunt attempt in the second.

“I’ve done this sort of thing in the minor leagues,” said a contrite Johnson of the throwing error, “and its nothing in comparison to this type of stage and this type of situation playing in September against the Yankees, who were are chasing.”

Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda (13-10) was good enough, allowing four earned runs on eight hits. Moore (10-9) allowed four earned runs on eight hits with nine strikeouts. Rafael Soriano earned his 36th save.

“No one on this team is perfect,” said Rays manager Joe Maddon. “We made mistakes tonight we’re not going to make for the rest of the year.”

Martin’s 15th home run of the season with two out in the sixth gave the Yankees back a 4-3 lead an inning after allowing the Rays to tie. Luke Scott tied the game in the bottom of the sixth with his 13th homer of the season.

Martin’s two-RBI ground-rule double in the third helped give the Yankees a 3-1 lead. Jeter began the rally when the Rays' Johnson dropped his flare to center – it was ruled a single – and Moore walked Robinson Cano with one out. Rodriguez laced a run-scoring double to the left-field corner and scored with Cano when Martin’s squib to right hopped the fence.

The Rays tied the game on a two-run Ben Zobrist triple in the bottom of the fifth, however, in a rally that began with a two-out, bases-empty walk to Sam Fuld. The Rays took a 1-0 lead in the first inning on a two-out Evan Longoria single. Fuld had led off the game with a single and moved to second on a Jennings sacrifice bunt.

NOTES: Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine, defending himself over being later than customary before a game at Oakland, accused Rays manager Joe Maddon of arriving “every day at 4 o’clock” during a heated radio interview on Wednesday. Maddon, who this May had called Valentine a “coward” for allegedly ordering a pitcher to throw at Luke Scott, indulged in a retort as he arrived for his pre-game scrum on Wednesday, saying, “Sorry I’m late. I just got here.” ... Jeter now has 182 hits this season to lead the majors and has the most in history for a 38-year-old (or older) shortstop. He passed Honus Wagner (181 in 1912). ... The Rays tied a MLB record by losing for the third time after its staff struck out 15 batters.

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