ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Ji-Man Choi hit a game-ending home run in the 12th inning, giving Tampa Bay a 2-1 victory against the Yankees on Tuesday night. The Rays remained on track for an American League wild-card berth on a night C. C. Sabathia pitched a perfect inning for the Yankees in his first career regular-season relief appearance.
Choi homered off Cory Gearrin (1-3), the last of 11 Yankees pitchers, after Pete Fairbanks (2-3) struck out Brett Gardner with a runner on second and two outs in the top half.
Tampa Bay remained a half-game ahead of Cleveland for the second A.L. wild card.
The Yankees (102-56) slipped as they tried to overtake Houston (102-54 entering Tuesday’s game at Seattle) for best record in the A.L. and home-field advantage throughout the league playoffs.
Sabathia, a 39-year-old left-hander who is retiring at the end of the season, had made 560 regular-season starts but is being moved to the bullpen along with J. A. Happ ahead of the postseason.
Sabathia struck out Travis d’Arnaud, induced a groundout from Choi and retired Matt Duffy on a called third strike. Sabathia’s only prior big league relief appearance was in Game 5 of the A.L. Division Series, when he allowed one earned run over one and a third innings against Detroit.
He received a standing ovation as he walked toward the dugout after the inning from a large group of Yankees fans among the announced crowd of 16,699.
Cameron Maybin homered in the third off Yonny Chirinos. It was the Yankees’ 299th home run, making them the first team in major league history to have 14 players with 10 or more homers in the same season.
Kevin Keiermaier tied the score in the fifth with a home run against Stephen Tarpley, the fourth Yankees pitcher.
Jordan Montgomery gave up three hits and struck out three over two scoreless innings for the Yankees in his second appearance and first start since returning from Tommy John surgery.
Yankees third baseman Gio Urshela was hit by a Diego Castillo pitch in the sixth and left an inning later with a bruised left hand. X-rays were negative.