NEW YORK -- A smile adorned Stuart Sternberg's face prior to Tuesday night's Rays-Yankees contest.

Tampa Bay's principal owner had plenty of reasons to smile given the role reversal at Yankee Stadium, where his first-place Rays played the third-place Yankees.

Sternberg's ownership group assumed control of the team in the fall of 2005 and declared the franchise to be "Under Contruction." Now the organization has built a solid foundation, and the team has made an ahead-of-schedule assent to the top of the American League East.

"Those who know me know that nothing pleases me more than when a plan comes together," Sternberg said. "So [what's happened with the Rays this season] is beyond rewarding. It's satisfying. Very satisfying."

Sternberg could not isolate one move, action or transaction as being the most critical to the team's success.

"That's the beauty of it -- it wasn't just one move," Sternberg said. "Lots of really hard work and evaluation. But certainly an awful lot of luck, and we recognize that."

Several weeks back, Sternberg cautiously said he wanted to see where the team stood heading into the All-Star break before addressing the rest of the season. On Tuesday, he said, "The team has answered the bell, I think, in dramatic fashion. ... Every day that goes by is just one day closer."

As for believing ...

"As a fan, I would be waiting for us to fold," Sternberg said. "As an owner, I'm doing everything in my powers to continue this. ... Just always looking. This is sort of the hand we've been dealt. It's a great hand, and we love it. But if there's anything we can do to ensure it ..."

Given the team's position in first place, Sternberg was asked if he now would be disappointed if the Rays did not make the playoffs.

"I don't think about it," Sternberg said. "I will gladly and fairly answer that question at the end of August. I really don't think about it. My focus is on how we do our best through the end of July. I think things favor us. Do everything we can to continue what we're doing, then you hope for the best."