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The Rays series showed fans why this Yankees team is great

The Yanks won two of three in St. Petersburg, and they did so in a way that highlighted many of their strengths.

New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

It has been well-documented that the 2022 New York Yankees are a great baseball team; they’re the best in the league at the moment, boasting a 52-18 record and 12.5-game division lead before the end of June. Their most recent series against Tampa Bay did plenty to validate these points. Much of the Yankees’ elite top-end talent showed everyone what they are capable of, as even when the usually strong starting pitching faltered at times, the team was able to keep games competitive and win the finale. Struggling players and surprise contributors played key roles in pivotal moments as well, making this series a good representation of what has made — and hopefully what will continue to make — this such a special team.

The series in St. Petersburg began almost immediately with a home run from Anthony Rizzo, off one of the best pitchers in baseball in Shane McClanahan. Then, much of the duration of the game was about staff ace Gerrit Cole. The right-hander was on his game, as he carried a no-hitter through into the eighth, struck out 12, and induced 19 swings and misses.

It was among Cole’s best outings of the season thus far. The no-hit bid was eventually broken up by Isaac Paredes, who we’ll get to later, but it didn’t diminish the stellar work that Cole did on the hill. Following Tampa Bay’s first hit, with the tying run at the plate, Aaron Judge made a jumping catch up against the center field wall. The star pitcher was helped out by the star slugger in center. Following a rare appearance in which Clay Holmes allowed a run, none other than Aaron Hicks delivered in the big moment with a go-ahead triple in the ninth, followed by an insurance sacrifice fly from Jose Trevino, culminating in an exciting 5-4 win.

Game two took a bit of a different path, as Nestor Cortes struggled through 4.1 innings, giving up four earned runs in an uncharacteristically rocky start. Paredes also had what is likely the game of his life, hitting three home runs. Down by three runs in the ninth, utiltyman Marwin Gonzalez got in on the action, hitting a two-run round-tripper to bring Judge up to bat.

Despite Paredes’ heroics, the Yankees still had life. They were within a single run with the league’s best home run hitter at the plate. Although Judge came just short of tying the game up, getting to that position is worth noting, given went wrong for the Yankees that night.

The finale of this three-game set followed this same theme. Jordan Montgomery got hit around a bit, giving up four runs over six innings, including another homer off the bat of Paredes. Judge clobbered a pair of majestic blasts to left field, bringing his home run total to an impressive 27. The decisive blow, however, came off the bat of Trevino, who followed up a key pickoff earlier in the game by mashing a go-ahead two-run homer in the eighth to put the Yankees up by a run.

Clarke Schmidt, Michael King, and Clay Holmes pitched a scoreless final three innings, and helped bring New York another 5-4 victory.

Aside from meeting the obvious goal of taking two of three from a dangerous division rival, this series seems to mean a lot more. The hard-fought set against the Rays demonstrated a number of ways that this team is built for success, which of course bodes well for their staying power as well.

The stars did what they are supposed to, as Judge hit some homers and made a crucial play in center field, while Cole threw a no-no through seven and looked dominant while doing it. But some of the most crucial late-game heroics came from less obvious members of the team, as Hicks and Trevino provided the clutch go-ahead knocks in each of New York’s wins.

This is something, at least anecdotally, that great teams tend to have in common: surprising contributions from players who might not be expected to do so, not only in big moments like these but in overall contributions as well. Remember, the man who led the 2009 Yankees in walk-off hits was not any of their MVP frontrunners, but Melky Cabrera.

Great players are necessary and important of course, but Aaron Judge can only bat four or five times in a game.

Despite a rare Holmes earned run, a few rough starts from typically dependable starters, and opposing players giving some career-best performances, the Yankees left the Trop with a series win, and a 12-game division lead. A few players met and exceeded their expectations, and when others didn’t, they had teammates who were able to make up the difference. This is a special team, and this series said a lot about them.