"They know we're still around. They know that," Mariano Rivera said after Wednesday's 2-1, 10-inning victory over the Rays completed a two-game sweep of the team with the best record in the majors.
New York has won four straight -- against the two teams ahead of it in the division -- after losing five of six. The Yankees are 4-1 since Girardi chewed out and challenged his players following a 7-0 loss to Boston last Thursday.
"We could have easily slipped away," said Jason Giambi, who hit an RBI single in the first. "It would have turned into a mountain, you know, if we would have got swept by Boston."
New York distributed 20,000 replica mustaches in support of the All-Star candidacy of Giambi, whose hot streak coincided with his decision in May to grow a mustache.
"I didn't really think I was going to turn into a fashion icon," he said. "A lot of wannabe Italians. I love it. If you really sit back, it's really a humbling experience to think of everything that I've gone through and the things that, you know, I've battled back from."
Yankees teammate Mike Mussina even wore a fake mustache during the Star-Spangled Banner. Girardi alluded before the game to the time Mets manager Bobby Valentine returned to his dugout with a fake mustache following an ejection in June 1999.
"I probably won't wear it during the game -- unless I happen to get tossed," Girardi said.
Young, exciting Tampa Bay has lost three in a row for the first time since the Rays were swept at Boston from June 3-5.
"This is not even adversity," Cliff Floyd said. "When you're playing good teams, you've got to score some runs."
Tampa Bay went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position, dropping to 2-for-28 (.071) during the three straight losses. The Rays don't appear worried.
"This is no time to be in any state of emergency," said starter Edwin Jackson, who allowed a run and six hits in 6 1/3 innings.
New York has won all three games started by Ponson, cut from Texas last month. Ponson complained to the Rangers when he was removed after four innings in one start, then when he was given six days between starts.
"When you come here, you have a clean slate," Girardi said. "He's been wonderful. I mean, he's done everything we asked. We moved him back a day or two, he was great. You know, we had him in the bullpen for a day. He was great."
Ponson made five appearances for the Yankees two years ago, and he's filled a gap in a rotation hit by injuries. He gave up one run and five hits in six innings, allowing at least one runner every inning and escaping a bases-loaded jam in the second when rookie Reid Brignac flied out.
With New York, Ponson has retired the side in order just three times in 17 innings.
"I would love to go out there and throw 1-2-3, 1-2-3 every inning," he said.
A 17-game winner for Baltimore in 2003, Ponson got into a beach fight in his native Aruba on Christmas Day 2004, landing him in jail for 11 days. He was released by the Orioles in September 2005 following his second drunken driving charge of the year, which earned him a five-day jail sentence. He went to alcohol rehabilitation, but then had physical issues. Elbow chips were removed in October 2006, and his elbow bothered him in 2007, a season cut short when Minnesota released him in May.
Now he feels his best in five years.
"He fits in with everybody. He gets along with everybody," Jeter said.
Ponson gave up his run on Carlos Pena's sixth-inning homer, which came on a 1-2 pitch down the middle. That ended a stretch of 17 consecutive scoreless innings for Yankees pitchers and 14 in a row for Rays batters.
Jeter worked out an eight-pitch walk with one out in the 10th against Balfour (2-1), who hadn't allowed a run in his previous 10 appearances. The Rays, shifted to left and playing in, had no chance to throw out Jeter on Abreu's double.
"The ball was up the wrong gap," manager Joe Maddon said.
- Tampa Bay 3B Evan Longoria was selected AL rookie of the month after hitting .300 with eight homers and 19 RBI in June.
- Molina, who made his fifth straight start, has thrown out 24 of 50 runners attempting to steal.
- LF Johnny Damon (sprained shoulder) has moved his rehab program to the Yankees' minor league complex in Tampa, Fla. Hideki Matsui (knee) also is headed to Tampa and could be back with the Yankees this month.
- Rivera has pitched two innings in consecutive outings for the first time since Aug. 20 and 27, 2006.