If the Yankees came into this series with the goal of breaking the backs of their rivals, they are doing an excellent job. After narrowing the Yankees’ division lead to 5.5 games earlier this week, the Rays had a chance to get themselves right back into the AL East race during this four-game set in St. Petersburg. The Yankees have had other ideas, as they’ve won a pair of exciting extra-inning games in dramatic fashion, snatching two tight victories to extend their lead all the way to 8.5 games. Nothing is guaranteed in baseball, but the Yankees are trying to put as much distance as possible between themselves and the field entering the All-Star Break.
Winner of the Game
Aaron Judge. The Yankees’ superstar had his first true superstar game of the season, smashing a solo home run in the first inning, and crushing another mammoth solo blast in the 11th inning to provide the Yankees the winning margin. Injuries have prevented Judge from fully getting into a rhythm this year, but tonight, he did what MVP-caliber players do:
Brett Gardner also had a huge game, blasting a three-run shot in the 11th to give the Yankees a cushion, to go along with a pair of singles.
Loser of the Game
I’ll say Masahiro Tanaka here, but mostly because of circumstance, not performance. Tanaka made it through six innings having only allowed two runs on a pair of solo homers, but was allowed to enter the seventh inning with a relatively high pitch count because last night’s extra-inning affair left the Yankees’ bullpen a little taxed. On most nights, if Tanaka skillfully navigated six innings, using almost 100 pitches, on the road against a good team, he’d exit in lieu of the team’s uber bullpen and watch as they finished off his victory. Tonight, he instead was asked to do more than he normally would, and he exited with two runners on, both of which came around to score courtesy of a Kevin Kiemaier single off Nestor Cortes Jr. Tanaka ended up with an unimpressive line despite pitching fairly well.