NEW YORK (AP) — His day done, Zoilo Almonte stood in a corner of the Yankees’ clubhouse and pulled out a cellphone. As his teammates showered up, got dressed and left, the rookie lingered in his dirt-smudged uniform, talking away.
There was plenty for him to talk about.
Almonte provided much-needed pop in his first major league start, homering and adding two singles Friday night that led New York over the Tampa Bay Rays 6-2.
“It was a sign that things are starting to be where they should be,” Almonte said through a translator.
Almonte started in place of slumping left fielder Vernon Wells and quickly delivered, a day after getting a pinch single for his first hit. The 24-year-old was promoted from Triple-A this week, joining an injury-ravaged team that’s had trouble scoring.
“I’m still a little nervous. It’s not easy for me,” he said.
Almonte also showed off a strong arm in helping the Yankees win for the third time in 10 games.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he admired Almonte’s “pretty swing” a couple of years ago in spring training. Almonte pressed in camp this season, did well in the minors — hitting .297 with six home runs and 36 RBIs — and earned this opportunity.
“He’s been on our radar for a while,” Girardi said, later adding, “the time has arrived.”
David Phelps (5-4) beat Roberto Hernandez (4-8) and the Rays for the second time in a month. Tampa Bay was trying for its first three-game winning streak in June.
Phelps gave up two runs in 5 2-3 innings. The Yankees used four relievers to finish it, with Mariano Rivera closing in a non-save situation.
Before Almonte’s solo homer in the sixth inning made it 5-2, the Yankees played a lot of small ball.
Robinson Cano hit a sacrifice fly in the first and Ichiro Suzuki got an RBI with a soft comebacker in the third. The next inning, Jayson Nix grounded into a bases-loaded double play for a 3-2 lead and David Adams followed with an infield hit for another run.
“We weren’t awful tonight,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “We just had some bad baseball luck on our side.”
The switch-hitting Almonte went 3 for 4, making him 4 for 6 in the majors. His home run sailed over the right-center wall and was caught on the fly in the Yankees’ bullpen by coach Mike Harkey.
Almonte said he would have his teammates sign the ball, then present it to his mother.
Asked if he’d ever had a better day, he said: “Today and when my son was born.”
Almonte got a hug from Cano, his fellow Dominican, when he reached the dugout. Cheered by festive fans on a pleasant first night of summer, Almonte emerged for a brief curtain call.
Lyle Overbay singled home a run with two outs in the Yankees eighth. That gave Almonte one more at-bat, but he struck out.
Ben Zobrist hit an RBI single in the Tampa Bay third. Luke Scott hit a single that made it 2-all in the fourth and the Rays went on to load the bases with one out. Matt Joyce hit a fly ball that Almonte caught on the run at medium depth, and his swift throw forced Scott to hold at third base. Desmond Jennings flied out to end the threat.
NOTES: Rays LHP David Price (left triceps strain) gave up two runs and two hits in 2 1-3 innings for Class-A Charlotte in his first rehabilitation start. The reigning AL Cy Young Award winner struck out four and walked two. … RHP Alex Colome will be promoted from Triple-A to start for the Rays on Saturday. In his only big league appearance, he didn’t permit an earned run in 5 2-3 innings and beat Miami on May 30. … LHP CC Sabathia (7-5, 3.93 ERA) starts Saturday for the Yankees. He’s lost twice to the Rays this season and four straight times overall. … The Rays signed first-round draft pick Nick Ciuffo. The 18-year-old catcher from South Carolina will join Tampa Bay’s team in the rookie level Gulf Coast League. … Only one other major leaguer has had the first name of Zoilo — 1965 AL MVP Zoilo Versalles. … Wells is in a 9-for-87 rut.