Desmond Jennings got the Rays' sputtering offense off to a good start, leading off the game with a single.
They didn't get another hit off Ivan Nova until the eighth inning.
Nova took a two-hitter into the ninth, Mark Teixiera and Robinson Cano homered and the New York Yankees beat Tampa Bay for the second straight night, 4-1 Wednesday.
"He pitched well," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We have not been the best hitting team of late; I can't argue that. But his command of his breaking stuff -- he pitched well. Not only that, he pitched well with his fastball. He was very good."
Nick Swisher and Eric Chavez had RBI doubles in the eighth inning to help the Yankees win for the 10th time in 13 games and pass Tampa Bay in the tight AL East standings for the first time since April 23.
Tampa Bay lost for the sixth time in eight games and dropped to third place after holding at least a share of the division lead since May 27.
Nova and Alex Cobb locked in a duel until Cobb (2-2) tired in the eighth. The pair combined to keep the bases clear after Cano's homer with one out in the fourth until Sean Rodriguez doubled with one out in the top of the eighth -- 20 straight batters.
"Cobb was excellent ... he pitched well enough to win that game," Maddon said. But their guy was outstanding."
Nova (7-2) worked into the ninth for the first time in 45 career starts but he gave up consecutive triples to Jennings and B.J. Upton to start the inning.
He was lifted to a loud ovation and Rafael Soriano relieved. He got three outs for his eighth save in eight chances, all since Mariano Rivera went out with a knee injury.
Before the game Maddon said his team needs to play a complete game, fielding with some consistency after committing three errors in a 7-0 loss Tuesday night, hitting better and pitching up to their standards. They got two of the three right.
The lineup has struggled with Evan Longoria sidelined since May 1. Tampa Bay entered with a .221 average in the slugging third baseman's absence because of a partially torn left hamstring.
Mustering just two hits against Andy Pettitte for 7 1-3 innings Tuesday and four overall, the Rays looked equally as lost against Nova -- getting a leadoff single then not getting a hit again until the eighth and finishing with four.
"A better game played on our part, even if we didn't win," Maddon said. "I thought we played better, we pitched better, we just did not hit."
The Yankees right-hander had allowed five runs in three of his last four starts but he had better command of his fastball this time and had one of his most dominant starts.
He gave up four hits and a walk while improving to 4-0 against the Rays in his career.
Cobb had the Yankees off-balance with his oft-used changeup, making only the two costly mistakes until the eighth.
"I felt pretty comfortable," Cobb said. "From the first inning on, I was able to locate my fastball pretty well and fairly early on I was able to throw my changeup in and out of the zone."
Cobb gave up four runs and five hits in his fourth start of the season. He walked one and struck out four.
Teixeira hit a high fly into the second deck in right field in the second inning for his 10th homer.
Cano smashed a line drive into the seats in right-center in the fourth inning one pitch after Alex Rodriguez was caught too far off first. A-Rod, who walked, started for second thinking Cobb's pitch got past Jose Molina, but Molina was able to catch the ball with his bare hand when it bounced high behind him then make a quick throw to first as Rodriguez tumbled back into the base.
NOTES: The Rays activated first baseman-outfielder Brandon Allen from the 15-day disabled list and designated him for assignment. Allen went on the DL on May 10 because of a strained right quadriceps. The Rays claimed Allen off waivers from Oakland April 19 and he batted .100 (2 for 20) with a homer and three RBIs in limited action. ... In the series finale Tampa Bays' David Price (7-3) and the Yankees' CC Sabathia (7-2) matchup for the seventh time in their careers. The Rays won the first five but the Yankees won on May 10 with Sabathia on the mound. ... The Yankees drafted RHP Jose Mesa Jr., son of former big leaguer Jose Mesa in the 24th round from Charles Flanagan HS (Fla.).
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