On May 10, 2019, Gio Urshela turned a 3-2 sixth-inning deficit in Tampa Bay into a 4-3 lead with a bases loaded single against Emilio Pagan. The bullpen combined for four shutout innings from there as the Yankees opened the three-game set with a win before splitting the next two to capture the series.
Taking two out of three that weekend was fairly inconsequential for a Yankees team that eventually won 103 games and the division, but its significance has grown in a way that seemed completely improbable at the time.
Because at almost two years ago to the day, it was the last time the Yankees won a series in Tampa.
The Yankees went 4-5 at Tropicana that year and 1-3 the following which, combined with the latest iteration this April, puts their record at 6-11 over the last three seasons. Only the 2015 Yankees who went 6-4 have had a winning record in Tampa since the world championship team went 5-4 in 2009.
It’s an embarrassing fact of life for the Yankees even despite the consistent success that Tampa has cobbled together since its franchise best 97-win season in 2008. But if this team wants to get to the next level and be the new bully of the American League, it has to start with the division, namely punching back against Tampa in their building.
The bad news – there’s not much positive to point to over the last several seasons. The good news – there’s time to write a different story in 2021.
Starting tonight, the Yankees have six more games in Tampa this year and along with them, the opportunity to change the narrative moving forward. Both teams come in two games over .500 and playing well – the Rays coming off a 5-2 West Coast trip and the Yankees coming off a 7-2 homestand.
With Gerrit Cole scheduled for game two, a big performance out of Jordan Montgomery tonight could go a long way toward setting the Yankees up to break the streak. It’ll be Monty’s third start against the Rays this year where he’s given up eight earned runs over 11 innings. Anchoring the series will be Jameson Taillon who’s coming off his best outing of the year against the Nationals.
With how the staff has performed across the board, you feel good about anyone they run out there to pitch the non-Cole games. Throw Cole into the mix and odds are you can take the series by scratching out just one win between Monty and Taillon. And adding Luke Voit to the lineup hopefully provides the offensive jolt the team needs.
There’s still uncertainty about whether this Yankees team will more closely resemble the first three weeks of the season or the last three moving forward, but a big week in Tampa would go a long way toward cementing that perception and, hopefully, catapulting this team to top of the league status.
A repeat of the past will not only keep this team bogged down around .500 but perpetuate the Rays Tropicana dominance and leave the Yankees unable to truly assert themselves as the top team in the A.L. East.