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Yankees 5, Rays 1: Bullpen comes up huge to force Game Five

Who knew the game was so simple?

Division Series - Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees - Game Four Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

As it turns out, baseball is pretty easy when you get great pitching. The Yankees combined stellar bullpen work with some timely power to top the Tampa Bay Rays 5-1 in a win-or-go-home game Thursday that set the stage for a decisive ALDS Game Five Friday night.

Luke Voit put the Yankees on the board early, clubbing a massive home run off Rays opener Ryan Thompson to lead off the bottom of the second inning. The side-winding Thompson, clearly struggling with his command, then proceeded to walk the next three batters, opening the door for a truly lopsided inning. The Yankees failed to take full advantage, however, and only managed to scratch out one more run on a sacrifice fly. Fortunately for them, that second run would be all they needed on the night.

Jordan Montgomery, pitching for the first time since Sept. 24, gave New York a sense of stability, if not length, that they sorely needed after conceding 15 runs over the previous two games. The southpaw navigated the first two innings efficiently, even striking out certified Yankees killer Randy Arozarena swinging on a curve ball to end the opening frame. Montgomery ran into trouble in the third, allowing a leadoff walk to Willy Adames and then a ground-rule double to Kevin Kiermaier, but he limited the damage to just one run. Montgomery added a scoreless fourth before making way for Chad Green in the fifth inning.

From there, the game went almost exactly as manager Aaron Boone could have hoped for. Green, after pitching two of the last three games, steered the Yankees through two crucial innings on just 24 pitches. That bridged the gap to Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman, who divvied up the final three innings and were likewise dominant. All told, the bullpen troika of Green, Britton, and Chapman provided five innings of shutout ball, allowing just one base-runner (a walk by Chapman in the eighth) while striking out seven.

The bullpen got some additional breathing room in the sixth, when Gleyber Torres launched a mammoth two-run shot off the fourth floor of the Western Metal Supply Company building in left field.

Catcher Kyle Higashioka chipped in an RBI single in the ninth to round out the Yankees’ scoring.

The Division Series is now down to one final game to see who will advance to take on the Houston Astros, who closed out their series against the Oakland A’s just as the Yankees and Rays were getting under way. The Yankees will hand the ball to ace Gerrit Cole on short rest for the first time in his career. The Rays will send on Tyler Glasnow on just two days’ rest. The do-or-die matchup is set.

Heading into Thursday night, that all the Yankees could have asked for.