ST. PETERSBURG -- There has been an effort to nudge the Yankees into being more aggressive on the basepaths, compensating for their diminished lineup with a brand of ball that -- without a hint of humor -- was even described from the manager's chair as "scrappy."
It's a formula that fits Ichiro Suzuki's skill set perfectly, and he made an impact on Tuesday night in helping the Yankees steal a 4-3 victory from the Rays at Tropicana Field, scoring the tying run after a daring dash and then lacing the game-winning hit in the ninth inning.
"I haven't been able to do much, but hopefully things like this will get me past it and I'll be able to have a good year," Suzuki said through an interpreter.
With the Yankees down a run to David Price in the eighth, Suzuki took off from first base on a hit-and-run play as Jayson Nix singled to left field. Suzuki trusted what he said was "a feel that I could make it there," sliding safely into third base and later scoring the tying run on a Brett Gardner groundout.
Then, in the ninth -- an inning that featured a rare Robinson Cano stolen base -- Fernando Rodney wobbled and had the bases loaded with two outs. Suzuki provided the Yankees with their first lead of the night, slashing Rodney's 99-mph fastball for a two-run single to center field that drove in Cano and Travis Hafner.
"The big one was really in the ninth, with two outs and the bases loaded," manager Joe Girardi said. "Hopefully it really gets him going, because we've seen him, and he can get extremely hot."
Girardi said it felt as though the Yankees pilfered one from the Rays on a night when they were winners for just the third time in their last 15 games at the Trop. Mariano Rivera allowed a leadoff homer to Evan Longoria in the ninth but recovered to log his sixth save of the year.
David Robertson was credited with the victory in relief of Phil Hughes, who recovered from a 32-pitch first inning to complete seven innings, picking up a no-decision in his second straight solid outing.
"I'm making progress," Hughes said. "I feel like I can be better, but they're certainly steps in the right direction. Any time you win a ballgame, you're happy. I like the way the guys battled back tonight, and I just feel like I can be better going forward."
Hughes clamped the damage after Ben Zobrist's well-struck sacrifice fly in the first inning, rallying to strike out Longoria and Matt Joyce -- two of the six strikeouts he notched as he trusted his offspeed pitches more than usual.
"Their guy needs to get some credit," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I thought Hughes pitched well. I know he had a couple of tough starts, but he had really good stuff tonight and held us in check."
Hughes thought he'd given up the game in the seventh, leaving a fastball up to Jose Molina that was slapped into right field for a run-scoring single, giving Tampa Bay a one-run lead.
"I felt like I had to pitch well," Hughes said. "David Price wasn't going to continue the way he'd been throwing, so I knew he was going to be tough. I thought the game was over in the seventh after making that bad pitch."
That wouldn't have been surprising, given that the Yankees have struggled mightily against left-handed pitching this season. Entering play on Tuesday, their .190 batting average against southpaws was tied for last in the American League.
Price didn't bend much as he looked to avoid having the Rays lose his first five starts of the season, but the Yankees scratched out eight hits over Price's eight-plus innings. Most of those hits would be, as Girardi said later, of the "scrappy" variety.
"When you're facing a guy like David Price, you're not going to get a lot of opportunities, so you've got to take advantage of them," Girardi said. "We try to do that all the time when the opportunity is there."
New York got on the board in the fourth inning. Eduardo Nunez struck out but reached on a wild pitch, and both Cano and Vernon Wells shot singles through the right side of the infield to bring around the run.
The Yanks' bats wouldn't be heard from again until the eighth, when Suzuki emerged from his early April struggles and delivered encouragement that there is still lightning left in the 39-year-old's game.
"As we know, being around here, when you're older, everyone is going to question who you are," Girardi said. "If you're heavy, they question that. If you're old, they question that. You're best off being in your prime and thin when you're struggling."
Indeed, there were those who scratched their heads when the Yanks gave Suzuki a two-year deal this past winter, and he has never exactly fit the prototypical Bronx Bombers playbook, but if these results keep flowing, the Yankees will happily try to follow his lead.
"Any team, when you can beat their ace, it's a big win," Suzuki said. "Obviously, with the way it went tonight, it was definitely a big win."