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Yankees 2, Rays 1: Rizzo’s walk-off clinches Johnny Wholestaff sweep

Clarke Schmidt, Ryan Weber, and more quieted the Rays for the bulk of the night, and Rizzo homered to win it.

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The Yankees were in a bind on Thursday when they learned that expected starter Luis Severino would have to hit the COVID-IL. So they had to turn to Clarke Schmidt for the start and call up Ryan Weber from Triple-A Scranton to take Severino’s roster spot, with an appearance highly likely. They also didn’t have Clay Holmes or Wandy Peralta available to pitch out of the bullpen after each reliever threw in the first two games of this series. So securing this possible sweep of the Rays was far from a lock.

It might only be mid-June, but fans have already learned that the 2022 Yankees are operating with some kind of magic. Both Schmidt and Weber were excellent, and while the Yankees’ offense only managed four hits against the Rays’ own bullpen game committee, Anthony Rizzo provided everything they needed. He tied the game in the sixth and walked it off in the bottom of the ninth, keying a 2-1 victory and that beautiful sweep.

Schmidt did as much as he could for the Yankees on a limited pitch count. He buckled down and got through a brief two-out jam in the first to induce a groundout from Randy Arozarena to strand a runner in scoring position. Schmidt then retired the next six batters in a row, ending his day with no runs and five strikeouts in three innings.

The night was a nice reminder of what a luxury it is for the Yankees to have Schmidt on their pitching staff. On almost every other team in the majors, he’d be starting, and Aaron Boone just gets to stash him in the bullpen. Schmidt was never going to have a high innings count this year anyway after not pitching too much in 2020-21, so it’s probably better for him long-term. He’ll get his time to shine, and he demonstrated his talents tonight.

The Rays’ pitching staff did equally good work keeping the Yankees off the board as well. It would have been hard for opener Jalen Beeks to top his outing. As a reliever, he could only go two innings, but hell if he wasn’t perfect. Kevin Cash won’t have any notes for him.

Matt Wisler relieved Beeks with a 1-2-3 third before putting Aaron Judge on with a one-out walk in the fourth. In the world of expected batting average, the Yankees would’ve scored here, as both Rizzo (.610 xBA) and Giancarlo Stanton (.800 xBA) both put a charge into their swings. But Rizzo’s drive died 380 feet away at the right-center-field warning track, and after Judge stole second, Stanton’s 118.8-mph missile went straight to Vidal Bruján’s glove. That’s baseball, Suzyn.

Fresh from the minor leagues, Weber made his Yankees debut in relief of Schmidt in the fourth. For a guy who entered 2022 with a 5.28 ERA in 63 games across a seven-year career, the expectations weren’t terribly high, so that made his 3.2-inning effort perfectly acceptable (and how). The only blemish was Francisco Mejía blistering a ball 382 feet down the right-field line for the game’s first run:

Mejía has some pop in his bat and Weber made a mistake. C’est la vie. The Yankees were thankful that Jose Trevino cut down Harold Ramirez trying to steal second just before this pitch, too; otherwise, it could’ve been a 2-0 hole.

Even with the Mejía blast in the books, Weber went right back to business and retired the next six batters in a row. By the time Boone took the ball from him with two down in the seventh, he’d recorded 11 pivotal outs in this ballgame. Between Schmidt and Weber, the Yankees essentially got a terrific Severino outing: 6.2 innings of one-run ball with just three hits and a single walk allowed (plus six strikeouts). Bravo to the both of them.*

*Weber was designated for assignment right after the game, as Severino’s PCR test confirmed that he did not have COVID. Sevy will travel with the team to Toronto, and in time, Weber will either find an opportunity elsewhere or return to Scranton. If this was his only career appearance in pinstripes though, it was a good one.

The Yankees’ offense remained quiet against the Rays’ roulette of relievers, but they did at least take Weber off the hook for the Mejía blast. Ryan Thompson turned out to be the weak link in Cash’s bullpen game strategy, as he had absolutely nothing. Gifted a two-out, none-on scenario when he entered in the sixth, Thompson issued back-to-back free passes to DJ LeMahieu and Judge. That set the stage for Rizzo to not waste another RBI opportunity:

With the three-batter minimum met, Cash hooked Thompson and brought Jason Adam to face Stanton, who grounded out to end the inning. Two more runners were left on base, but the game was tied on a much-appreciated knock from Rizzo.

Ron Marinaccio and Michael King kept the Rays off the board — hell, off the hit column — through the ninth, and in the home half, Rizzo had another chance to provide a key hit. Shawn Armstrong dropped in a 96-mph sinker that caught way too much of the zone, and the three-time All-Star pummeled it:

Rizzo really has been a quietly excellent signing for the 2022 season. I thought that he’d be OK, but 16 homers and a 128 wRC+ in 62 games with countless error-saving picks at first base? That’s a valuable guy to have on your team.

The Yankees are now an absurd 47-16 and have put 12 games between them and the third-place Rays. They’ve won seven in a row (not to mention 14 straight at home) and will jump from one division rival to another tomorrow night. They’ll go north of the border to take on the second-place Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre with Jordan Montgomery set to face Ross Stripling. Join us for first pitch at 7:07pm ET.

Box Score