The Yankees came into the series with the Rays with a modest four game winning streak and they were gaining ground in the wildcard chase. With the teams in front of them in the division and wildcard races playing each other over the weekend, the opportunity to gain ground was a distinct possibility. The main focus needed to be on winning their games and let the rest take care of itself.
A Baby Bomber Walk-off
C.C. Sabathia got the start to begin the series and from the word go on Thursday he did not look good. His velocity was certainly down and he was not locating pitches well either. The Rays would tally runs in each of the first three innings courtesy of solo home runs. Kevin Kiermaier in the first and third innings and Steven Souza in the second would touch them all. Sabathia would pitch through four innings and to two batters in the fifth before giving way after 87 pitches. With a limited bullpen, the potential was there for a long and ugly ballgame.
After the first inning home run from Kiermaier, the Yankees got two runs of their own in the bottom half. Didi Gregorius drove in the first with an RBI single and the second run plating as the result of an errant pickoff throw at first base allowing Jacoby Ellsbury to score. Brian McCann would hit a pair of solo bombs, one in the second and one in the fourth. Each one would serve to break a tie score and give the Yankees a lead.
The bullpen would come up huge in this game. Jonathan Holder, Chasen Shreve, Blake Parker, Kirby Yates, and Tommy Layne would cobble together 5 innings of 1 run baseball to keep the Yankees in it. The lone run came from Souza’s second blast of the game, this one tying things at 4. They would manage to get it to the bottom of the ninth, when with two outs and two strikes, Tyler Austin did this:
The walkoff gave the team their fifth straight win and on a day with limited games on the schedule, they passed the Astros in the wildcard standings and gained a half game on everyone else. Winning streaks cure a lot of ills and this team is playing well with a different hero each day.
A long rainy night with a happy ending
On a night when the Yankees were looking for their sixth win in a row, they would have to endure not one, not two, but three rain delays. The offense showed up early on and they really make Rays pitcher Blake Snell work hard. The rookie threw 88 pitches just to get 8 outs as the Yankees would end his night in the third inning. Ellsbury would score the first run of the game after Rob Refsnyder‘s liner to left field was misplayed and allowed to roll to the wall. Were it not for a bad send from third base coach Joe Espada, the inning could have been a lot more. The same thing could have been said about the second inning after Snell knocked down Refsnyder’s line drive to keep at least a couple more runs from scoring. Gary Sanchez would put the finishing touches on Snell’s night with his 12th home run of the season and the Yankees would have a 3-0 lead after three innings.
Michael Pineda was on the mound and through the first three innings had some really magic stuff working. He struck out six batters in those three innings while generating thirteen swings-and-misses. As has been typical of Pineda, he came back down to earth with a thud, allowing back-to-back home runs in the fourth inning. He would get pulled after 4.2 innings, giving up 6 hits and 2 runs, while striking out 7.
After the first rain delay, Mark Teixeira would give the game the look of a blowout as he would hit a grand slam off the top of the wall and into the bullpen. At the time, the Yankees held a 7-2 lead and looked to be on the way to an easy win. The Rays would chip away at the lead between rain delays, but the Yankees still held a 7-4 lead heading to the bottom of the ninth. Betances would give up 3 hits and 1 run in an inning that was sandwiched around the final rain delay of 51 minutes.
The 7-5 victory was far from pretty, but when things are going your way, you just go with the flow. The last two games have been games that probably would have had different outcomes earlier in the season. The Orioles lost to the Tigers to bring the Yankees even closer to a wildcard spot as they are now two games back.
Tanaka and the Bombers
Masahiro Tanaka and Chris Archer matched each other out for out through the first five innings on Saturday in a game that seemed like it might go down to the very end. Tanaka would strike out ten in 7.1 innings of work; the only blemish being a Bobby Wilson solo home run in the eighth. He has been more than solid all season and some now have the opinion that he should be in the Cy Young conversation. He just always seems to at the very worst go out every start and keep the team in games.
Archer was just as good going into the sixth inning when things came apart in a matter of three batters. Brett Gardner would lead off with a single and then Ellsbury would hit his 8th home run of the season to give the Yankees a 2-0 lead. Sanchez would follow with a solo shot of his own to increase the lead to 3-0. After the Rays pulled to within 3-1, the Yankees would get sacrifice flies from Gregorius and Sanchez to go up 5-1. The one from Sanchez would make all the nightly highlight shows as it came while the Rays were attempting an intentional walk.
Good pitching, timely hitting, and a bit of luck have all gone into this 7 game winning streak. They are now only three back in the division and one game back in the wildcard. They are a season high 11 games above .500. Really hard to believe the difference in this club since August 1st. It’s just a fun thing to sit back and watch and enjoy.
Can’t win them all
Winning four straight against the same is difficult. Even against a team in last place. Luis Cessa was on the mound on Sunday and just couldn’t keep enough balls in the yard again. 5 hits in 5.2 innings of work isn’t just horrible, but 3 of those hits were home runs. The first one was a two run shot off the bat of Corey Dickerson that gave the Rays a 2-0 lead. This all happened after two were out. 13 home runs in 47.2 innings on the season is umm….not good. Luis Severino, Blake Parker, and Tommy Layne would all be effective out of the bullpen to keep the Yankees in it as they worked for a rally. Severino has been nothing short of silly good in the bullpen of late.
The Yankees couldn’t muster much offense against the recently struggling Matt Andriese. His ERA had been well north of 8.00 in his last seven starts, but he was more than effective on Sunday. The Yankees have had more than their share of issues facing pitchers with recent struggles this season. They would not get on the board until Chase Headley‘s solo home run in the fifth inning, which momentarily cut the lead to 2-1. The Rays would rebuild their lead with two solo home runs in the very next half inning to end Cessa’s outing.
The Yankees would not be able to put up a rally as they would fall in the finale, 4-2. Everything that fallen into place in games of late, but they couldn’t quite get it done today. The team still has the third best record in baseball since the trade deadline and they are still only two back of the wildcard with a lot of head-to-head divisional games left to be played. This week will be another round of must win games against top notch competition as the NL West leading Dodgers come to town before a four game trek to Boston to play the AL East division leaders.