Tuesday night’s Yankees-Rays matchup was a tale of two baseball games. For the first seven innings, Tampa Bay had the edge. The Rays kept on grinding out hits and their pitchers held the Yankees at bay. With a flick of the switch in the bottom of the eighth, though, the Yankees powered two home runs—including a grand slam—to take the 8-3 lead. The Bombers regained their six-game division lead as well.
Both teams got on the board quickly in the second inning. Austin Meadows took CC Sabathia deep in the top half of the frame, but Edwin Encarnacion got the run back with a tape-measure shot in the bottom half. Encarnacion’s bomb went 435 feet, and tied the game back up at one apiece.
After a scoreless third inning, the Rays struck again. Yandy Diaz cracked a line drive down the left-field line that barely made it out, giving the Rays the 2-1 lead. Avisail Garcia followed with a towering fly ball in the next at-bat, but Brett Gardner tracked it all the way and robbed Garcia of a home run. Gardner perfectly timing his leap at the wall. Sabathia had only given up two hits to that point, but they were hit a long way.
The Rays threatened again in the fifth, when Willy Adames hit a one-out double. Sabathia did he what he does best to get out of trouble though: hunker down and generate soft contact. It was a typical late-career CC start Tuesday night; he pitched six innings and struck out six Rays. While he didn’t “wow” anyone with his stuff, he kept the Yankees in the game with a solid start.
The Yankees countered with their own one-out double in the bottom half, courtesy of Didi Gregorius, but the Yankees literally ran themselves out of the inning. Gregorius got a little overzealous trying to advance to third base on a groundball hit right in front of him. Gleyber Torres, meanwhile, took too big a turn and was thrown out retreating to first base. It was a 6-5-4-3 double play that ended the inning on two mistakes that never should have happened.
The mistake cost the Yankees dearly in the next inning. Diaz, who had already hit a home run, pounded a double off the left-center field wall that plated Michael Brousseau and made it 3-1 Rays . Sabathia only made three or four bad pitches all night, but the Rays did damage on all of those offerings. After he struck out Garcia to end the sixth, the two had some words and the benches cleared, although cooler heads prevailed.
Meanwhile, Jalen Beeks hadn’t allowed a hit over his first three innings of work in relief of opener Ryne Stanek. That changed in the bottom of the sixth, when DJ LeMahieu smacked an opposite-field dinger, his 13th of the year, to cut the deficit to one run. After Aaron Judge followed with a single, Kevin Cash called on Hunter Wood to hold the lead. He got Luke Voit to ground into a double play, and the Rays exited the inning up 3-2.
After an eventful seventh inning where the Rays loaded the bases before David Hale bailed out Nestor Cortes, the Yankees went down quietly. Although the bats were still sleeping, Hale’s bullpen Houdini act proved vital as the game rolled on.
The Rays turned to their budding bullpen ace, Colin Poche, for the eighth inning, and the Yankees finally broke through. Poche had struck out 27 batters over his first 17 MLB innings, but he didn’t fool the Yankees on Tuesday night.
After Torres walked to lead off the inning, Poche almost got out of it. He struck out Gardner and then LeMahieu lined a near-double that Kevin Kiermaier chased down. One out away from another scoreless inning, Judge came up and changed things with one swing of the bat.
Judge got the count to 3-1, and just missed the go-ahead two-run home run foul by inches. On the very next pitch, Judge dialed in and crushed a two-run home run to right, giving the Yankees their first lead of the night. The Bombers weren’t done yet, though.
Voit followed with a single, Gary Sanchez ripped a double and Encarnacion was intentionally walked to load the bases for Gregorius. Poche, the lefty strikeout artist, challenged Gregorius with a fastball up and in, and Gregorius turned him around and pounded a grand slam into the right-field seats. When the ball landed, the Yankees had busted the game open, 8-3.
The Yankees had finally gotten the big hits needed to topple Tampa Bay. The Rays were four outs away from getting within four games of the division lead tonight, but instead have fallen six games back. The Yankees will look to extend the lead over the Rays tomorrow night. Domingo German and Yonny Chirinos are the probable pitchers.