ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Six straight wins. Eleven in a row at home. First place in the AL East.
The Tampa Bay Rays realize it's only mid-May, but they're having a ball during the best start in franchise history.
"I've been around a long time. It's early, but I love the way we're doing it by not giving in to anyone," veteran closer Troy Percival said Tuesday night after Gabe Gross singled with no outs in the 11th inning to drive in the first run Mariano Rivera has allowed all season in a 2-1 victory over the New York Yankees.
"We're winning close games against good teams," Percival said. "The way we're fighting, you can see it's not a fluke."
Cliff Floyd began the 11th with a single and pinch-runner Jonny Gomes stole second before Gross delivered the winner up the middle on a 1-1 pitch. Rivera (0-1) had not allowed a run in 14 previous appearances.
J.P. Howell (3-0) pitched two scoreless innings for the win, the Rays' 15th in 20 games. Tampa Bay matched its longest winning streak of the season at six games and has won a club-record 11 in a row at home.
Even sweeter, they're a half-game ahead of Boston in the AL East after the Red Sox lost 5-4 at Baltimore. It's the first time the Rays have sat alone atop the division standings beyond the first week of a season.
"It's great to be here, and a big part of it is the confidence derived from it," manager Joe Maddon said, adding that he thinks his young team has the capability of remaining in the race. "Nobody's cocky or complacent. Everybody's coming to the ballpark with the right attitude."
At 23-16, the Rays are seven games over .500 for the first time in the team's 11 seasons. They've finished last nine times in the past decade.
"They're pitching better. They're making some plays, and they run," Rivera said. "They do all the little things. But the most important thing is they're pitching."
The Rays were two outs away from victory when Hideki Matsui hit his first homer since April 15, a stretch of 57 at-bats, into the right-field seats off Percival to send it to extra innings.
Even though the closer couldn't hold the lead, he walked off the mound feeling the Rays were in good shape.
"I was thinking this team has the heart to come back and win," he said. "Don't give up another run."
Eric Hinske drove in Tampa Bay's first run with a two-out, fourth-inning single off Chien-Ming Wang, who allowed one run and seven hits in seven innings. The Yankees starter walked three and struck out two.
Rays starter Edwin Jackson scattered five hits over seven innings before leaving a 1-0 lead to the bullpen.
"I said before the series, they're a very good team," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "They've improved every year. They've worked hard getting people in here, and they've done a good job."
The keys to Tampa Bay's strong start have been consistent pitching, improved defense and timely hitting, such as Hinske's RBI single after Carlos Pena led off the bottom of the fourth with the only extra-base hit off Wang.
Matt Garza pitched seven scoreless innings in Monday night's 7-1 win over the Yankees, and Jackson took up where he left off.
The Yankees threatened in the second, sixth and seventh innings against the Rays starter, but stranded runners at third all three times.
Robinson Cano hit into a force play and Alberto Gonzalez grounded into a double play after Jackson gave up singles to Jason Giambi and Melky Cabrera in the second. Bobby Abreu and Matsui failed to come through after a diving Hinske played what should have been a single to right into Derek Jeter's one-out triple in the sixth.
Pinch-hitter Shelley Duncan took a third called strike, ending the seventh after Cabrera moved from second base to third on a wild pitch.
"We didn't have a lot of opportunities," Girardi said. "But the few that we had, we squandered."
- Attendance was announced as 16,558, up from 13,392 on Monday night.
- The Rays improved to 3-0 in extra innings. The Yankees are 0-1.
- Giambi is the only major leaguer with at least five homers who have more homers (seven) than singles (six) this season.
- New York plans to recall RHP Ian Kennedy from Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre to start Thursday's series finale against Rays LHP Scott Kazmir. To make room on the roster, the Yankees are pondering whether to send LHP Kei Igawa to the minors.
- Rays OF Rocco Baldelli, on the 60-day disabled list because of a condition that leaves him feeling extremely fatigued after short workouts, took batting practice before the game.
- Two of the Yankees top relief pitching prospects, right-handers J.B. Cox and Mark Melancon, were promoted Tuesday: Cox from Double-A Trenton to Scranton-Wilkes Barre and Melancon from Class A Tampa to Trenton.