NEW YORK -- Gary Sheffield drove the ball to deep left-center in the first inning. It was headed over the wall for a two-run homer, until Joey Gathright sprinted over from center, leaped and pulled the ball back in.
"You say, that's not a good sign," Yankees manager Joe Torre said.
But one night after failing to take advantage of numerous chances, the New York Yankees rallied past the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 4-1 Thursday as slumping Hideki Matsui hit a tiebreaking, two-run single in a three-run sixth inning.
Shawn Chacon put his early struggles behind him with his second consecutive strong outing, and the Yankees bounced back from Wednesday's 4-2, 10-inning loss. In that one, none of the 14 Yankees who walked came around to score. They had three walks in this one, and all three runners came across.
"You'd assume that somebody would score yesterday. That's how it goes," said Derek Jeter, whose walk sparked the sixth.
Jeter raised his average to .408, going went 3-for-3 with two singles and a walk against Mark Hendrickson (1-1) and an RBI double in the seventh against Ruddy Lugo.
"I don't really pay much attention to it. We've only played a couple weeks," Jeter said. "I don't overanalyze."
New York, which has won four of five, rallied for three unearned runs in the sixth after an error by third baseman Russell Branyan, who backed up and let Sheffield's two-hopper kick off the heel of his glove and roll through his legs.
"I should make that play. I'm a lot better player than that," Branyan said.
He was making his first start of the year at third because Ty Wigginton shifted to second to replace Jorge Cantu, who went on the disabled list Wednesday with a broken left foot.
"If I hit him 100 fungos, he'll make that play 99 times," Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
Gathright put Tampa Bay ahead with an RBI single in the fifth inning following Damon Hollins' double. His first-inning catch was the defensive highlight of the game.
"Sheff doesn't like me too much right now, I guess," he said. "I've made some diving catches in the gaps, but never anything like that, bringing back a home run. I've been waiting to do something like that."
Torre said Minnesota's Torii Hunter was the only other player capable of making that type of catch because Sheffield had hit the ball so hard on a line.
"That was a great play -- not the fact that he caught it, the fact that he caught up to it," Torre said.
Chacon (3-1) allowed four hits in 6 1/3 innings. In his last two starts, he has lowered his ERA from 8.03 to 4.56.
"Most of it just comes down to being aggressive," he said.
Mike Myers escaped a two-on jam in the seventh, Kyle Farnsworth recorded the last two outs of the eighth and Tanyon Sturtze allowed a leadoff single in the ninth. Mariano Rivera, who allowed a pair of 10th-inning runs in a 38-pitch outing Wednesday, notched three outs for his third save in four chances.
"I was ready," Rivera said. "It didn't matter how many pitches I threw yesterday."
Hendrickson, making his first start after a stint on the disabled list caused by shoulder tightness, gave up just four hits in six innings, and all the runs off him were unearned because of Branyan's error.
After Jeter's one-out walk started the rally, the Yankees loaded the bases when Sheffield reached on the error and Alex Rodriguez walked.
"I tried to get too fine," Hendrickson said. "Derek had a couple of good swings against me. It's that fine line between being aggressive and being picky."
Jason Giambi hit a slow hopper to first that drove in the tying run. Matsui, in a 1-for-16 slide, followed with a roller up the middle that was perfectly placed. Shortstop Tomas Perez and Wigginton both dived and wound up back-to-back, prone, as the ball went between them, almost as if they had been choreographed.
Before the hit, Matsui was batting just .167 (5-for-30) against left-handers.
"My condition I don't think is bad. I think it's pretty good," he said through a translator. "The results don't show that, obviously."
Tampa Bay has lost five of six. ... Torre said Jorge Posada will catch LHP Randy Johnson on Saturday. ... Rodriguez was presented with his AL MVP award before the game. He also was presented with the award during an offseason dinner. ... New York RHP Aaron Small (hamstring) made a rehab start for Triple-A Columbus and allowed two runs and nine hits in seven innings. He could be activated Monday or Tuesday.