ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) – Nearly four months after thinking his career might be over, Jaret Wright is back – and pitching well – for the New York Yankees.

Wright won his first start since going on the disabled list because of shoulder pain, and Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield homered Monday night, helping the Yankees beat the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 5-2 for their fifth straight victory.

“If I could have envisioned it, this is exactly what I would have envisioned,” Wright said. “Coming in after three months and being able to compete and getting a win. It’s a really good feeling.”

Rodriguez homered for the third straight game, hitting a two-run, fourth-inning shot off Casey Fossum (6-9) to boost his American League-leading total to 36. Sheffield hit No. 25, a solo blast off reliever Travis Harper, for a 5-2 lead in the seventh.

But Wright (3-2) was the story for the Yankees, whose starting rotation has been in shambles because of injuries.

“He’s one of the guys we counted on when spring training started,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said. “He has basically had a long, boring road back because there wasn’t a whole lot for him to do other than rest it and rehab it. Right now, he’s tickled pink.”

Pitching for the first time since April 23, the right-hander allowed two runs and four hits in 6 1-3 innings – his longest outing of the season. He struck out two, walked one and hit three batters, including Jonny Gomes twice.

In between the plunkings, Gomes hit a solo homer off Wright in the fourth. The Devil Rays also scored on Toby Hall’s RBI single in the fifth.

Tanyon Sturtze replaced Wright with two runners on and one out in the seventh, and Tom Gordon pitched a perfect eighth for the Yankees. Mariano Rivera, who also hit Gomes with a pitch, got the last three outs for his 32nd save, moving ahead of Jeff Reardon for fifth place on the career list with 368.

Wright had been on the DL since April 24, one day after leaving a loss against Texas. It was the eighth time he has been on the disabled list in his nine-year career, and the sixth because of a shoulder problem.

“Coming out of that game was a definite low point. I didn’t know if I’d be able to throw again – how it would play out,” Wright said, crediting pitching specialist Billy Connors and trainer Mark Littlefield with helping him get back on track.

“The guys worked with me. … We put in the time to give myself a chance to come back. It’s just super to be back.”

Monday’s start was his fifth of the season, and second against Tampa Bay, which roughed up the right-hander for eight runs and 11 hits in 5 1-3 innings in the Yankees’ 19-8 victory over the Devil Rays on April 18.

This time, Wright held the Devil Rays without a hit until Gomes homered with two outs in the fourth to trim New York’s lead to 2-1.

“To be on the DL as long as he has, he came out and pitched well,” Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella said. “We had a few chances. We didn’t get hits when we needed them.”

Rodriguez homered for the sixth time in nine games, hitting a towering shot to center field that hit one of the catwalks that support the dome at Tropicana Field, approximately 100 feet above the playing surface.

As he was circling the bases, Rodriguez was not sure if the ball – picked up by centerfielder Joey Gathright – was in play or had been ruled a homer. The New York star even slid into third base to beat Gathright’s throw back to the infield before being waved home.

“I almost pulled a hamstring,” an embarrassed Rodriguez said. “I was confused. I hit the ball, and then I saw the outfielder kind of stop. I said no way he’s going to catch this. When I saw the ball on the field, I thought it was a live ball.”

The Yankees added two unearned runs in the fifth. Bernie Williams doubled and scored when third baseman Alex Gonzalez booted Derek Jeter’s ground ball for an error. Two batters later, Jeter trotted home on Sheffield’s RBI single.

Fossum, who beaten the Yankees twice this season, allowed four runs and five hits in six innings. The Devil Rays starter struck out four and walked four before being replaced by Harper, who gave up the homer to Sheffield with two outs in the seventh.

Notes: Jeter started at DH for the second time in his career. He was 1-for-4 with a two-run homer in his only other start at DH, July 7, 2002, vs. Toronto. … To make room on the roster for Wright, the Yankees optioned left-handed reliever Wayne Franklin to Triple-A Columbus.

AP-ES-08-15-05 2326EDT

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