NEW YORK -- As Matt Joyce completed the first sentence of his postgame interview, teammate Delmon Young blurted out from his neighboring locker stall, "He set the tone."
Joyce did indeed set the tone for a fun night for the Tampa Bay Rays and a miserable night for the New York Yankees.
Three pitches into the game, the slumping Joyce hit a home run and the Rays never looked back en route to a 7-0 rout of the Yankees Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium.
"It was huge," Joyce said. "Obviously the position that we're in, it's crunch time and just to get things started the way that we did today is awesome. That's it, you set the tone right from the start."
The Rays extended their winning streak to five games and, after four tight games with the Baltimore Orioles, enjoyed a blowout win that enabled them to move six games ahead of the Yankees (82-75). The Rays hold the top wild-card spot in the American League, one game ahead of the Cleveland Indians. The Indians own the second wild-card position, one game ahead of Texas.
With the loss, the Yankees can do no better than tie the Indians for the second wild-card spot. One more New York loss or one more Cleveland victory officially eliminates the Yankees from playoff contention.
"It's definitely hard because you work for a long time to put yourselves in a good spot to get into the playoffs, and right now we need a ton of help and we need to win every game," New York manager Joe Girardi said.
Joyce was an unusual choice by Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon to be the leadoff hitter. He was the designated hitter and came into the game with just three hits in 41 at-bats this month. However, on a 1-1 slider from Hiroki Kuroda, he hit a high-arching shot over the right-field wall.
"It's different, especially DHing and leading off, you don't see that too many times," Joyce said. "For me I never would have guessed that I would ever DH and lead off a game, so Joe's at it again."
Joyce's 18th home run was followed by a David DeJesus RBI double and a sacrifice fly by Evan Longoria which gave the Rays a three-run lead just 11 pitches into the night.
Tampa Bay started Matt Moore labored through five innings but held the Yankees to three hits on a night where he walked six and had three wild pitches. He navigated his way through those struggles by holding the Yankees to one hit in 13 at-bats with men on base.
"I'm pretty surprised I wound up getting through those five innings," Moore said. "I pitched around those walks out of the stretch with runners in scoring position, it's not the most comfortable feeling."
Moore's night ended when he retired Vernon Wells on a fly out to right field, and moments later, the Rays added two more runs on a two-run, bases-loaded single by James Loney. They tacked on two in the ninth on RBI doubles by Young and DeJesus.
Jamey Wright pitched a scoreless inning, and rookie Jake Odorizzi worked three scoreless innings for the save, ending the game by getting Alex Rodriguez to hit into a double play.
Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda (11-13) continued his late-season fade, allowing five runs and five hits in 5 2/3 innings. He fell to 1-7 since July 31 after starting the year with a 10-6 record.
"I think all my pitches were not sharp," Kuroda said through an interpreter.
The Yankees lost for the eighth time in 11 games, a stretch that began with them just one game out in the wild-card race heading into a four-game series at Yankee Stadium with the Boston Red Sox.
"It's frustrating," Wells said. "Anytime you put this uniform on, you go out and expect to produce and win, and when you're not doing it, it's frustrating. There's been so many different guys in this uniform and to a man they've gone out and done everything they could on the field to do their part and help us win games."
NOTES: The Yankees announced that RHP Phil Hughes will start in place of LHP CC Sabathia on Wednesday. Sabathia was shut down for the season Monday with a Grade 2 left hamstring strain that occurred early in Friday's start. Sabathia finished his fifth season with the Yankees by going 14-13 with a career-worst 4.78 ERA but vowed to be better next season. "I know a lot of people have written me off and said that I've thrown too many innings, whatever, whatever, but I'll still be here and still be accountable and still be the guy that signed up for 2009," he said. ... Tampa Bay OF Desmond Jennings sat out for the second straight game with a left hamstring strain and is considered day-to-day. ... Myers and Ben Zobrist switched places from the original lineup. Myers was initially slated to bat fifth while Zobrist was slotted as the second-place hitter. ... Tuesday was Mariano Rivera bobblehead night for the first 18,000 fans, but a delay with the truck delivering them forced the Yankees to give out vouchers, which were redeemed starting in the third. ... Tampa Bay lost SS Yunel Escobar (sore left ankle) and C Jose Lobaton (bruised right elbow) during the game. Both are considered day-to-day.