ST. PETERSBURG — What a birthday weekend it was for Michael Perez, who was the hero twice for the Rays in three days against the Yankees.
With two outs in the bottom of the ninth Sunday afternoon at Tropicana Field, the left-handed hitting catcher stroked a single to right off lefty Zach Britton to score Brandon Lowe with the winning run in a 4-3 win over the Yankees.
The victory enabled the Rays, who trailed 3-0 after six, to take the four-game series from their division rival and get back to .500 (8-8) ahead of a 10-game road trip that starts in Boston on Monday night.
It was the first walk-off hit of Perez’s career, in which he is hitting .346 against lefties (9-for-26).
“Like the other day, I was just trying to put the ball in play,” he said. “I know (Britton) has that sinker and he was throwing it down and in and all I was focusing on was trying to put the ball in play.”
On Friday night, Perez celebrated his 28th birthday with a pinch-hit sacrifice fly in the eighth inning to score Yoshi Tustsugo with the only run of the game.
“It was a really impressive at-bat (Sunday) for Mikey and a really impressive birthday weekend for him,” said manager Kevin Cash.
Rays starter Charlie Morton left the game in the third inning with right shoulder inflammation. After walking leadoff batter Aaron Hicks on five pitches, Cash and trainer Joe Benge made their way to the mound. The 36-year-old right-hander, who threw 50 pitches, was lifted with Trevor Richards taking over.
“Early in the second I felt some tightness and it didn’t really loosen up too much in third,” said Morton, noting the issue is with the deltoid. “It was just some discomfort and tightness. I think it was the right thing (to come out of the game). On a severity scale, I am not worried about missing much time.”
Richards threw four innings and allowed only a pair of unearned runs in the fifth when Gio Urshela’s deep fly to center went off Manuel Margot’s glove for a three-base error and a 3-0 Yankees lead.
John Curtiss, making his Rays debut, retired all six batters he faced (four strikeouts) and Ryan Thompson recorded a one-two-three ninth to pick up his first career win.
“We won the game because they kept it where it was,” said Cash of the bullpen. “Trevor was outstanding, Curtiss was outstanding and Thompson was outstanding to keep us (in the game) and give us every opportunity to get the offense going. Really appreciative of their efforts.”
The Rays, who had only one hit and went down on strikes 11 times in six innings against Yankees starter James Paxton, broke through in a big way against the lefty in the seventh.
After Jose Martinez led off with a double, Mike Brosseau and Brandon Lowe hit back-to-back homers to knot the game at 3-3 and a sudden end to Paxton’s afternoon.
The Rays had hit only one home run in their previous 47 innings.
After Lowe’s homer there was a little dialog going back and forth between the dugouts with Mike Zunino having a few things to say to the Yankees.
“They were chirping the whole weekend,” said Lowe. “We chirped at them once and they kind of got upset about it. They have been kind of loud about everything and we did it back and they didn’t like it.”
The Rays carry the momentum into a season-long 10-game trip. Following four games at Fenway, they travel to Buffalo to play Toronto for three and then it is off to the Bronx for three against the Yankees.