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Yankees 6, Rays 5: The Empire Strikes Back

Anthony Rizzo sent the fans home happy on his own bobblehead night.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Until the bottom of the eighth, this looked to be another demoralizing loss to Tampa Bay. If not for Anthony Rizzo, it would’ve been. The big lefty slugged two home runs, including a pivotal go-ahead shot in the eighth, and the Yankees won the second game of this key series against the first-place Rays, 6-5.

Gerrit Cole labored through a 31-pitch first inning in a start where the Yankees needed him most. After retiring the first two batters, the No. 3 hitter, Randy Arozarena, hit a 109.3-mph solo shot on a fastball left middle in. He limited the damage though, retiring Isaac Paredes after a Brandon Lowe walk and a Harold Ramírez single put runners on the corners.

On his Star Wars-themed “Mandalorian” bobblehead night, Rizzo beamed a space laser of his own over the short porch in the home first against Rays opener Trevor Kelley, who allowed no other damage in two innings of work.

Jose Siri roped another solo home run on another fastball at 109.1 mph in the second inning after Cole retired the first two hitters once again. Two home runs at Aaron Judge-level exit velo in the first two innings is not great, but both of those marks would be surpassed soon after. After an Anthony Volpe error, Arozarena smashed a 110.8-mph lineout to Isiah Kiner-Falefa to end Cole’s rocky second inning.

The Rizzo homer was the only offense the lineup could muster the first four innings. Josh Fleming entered the game and set the Yankees down in order in the third and fourth with some help from the home plate umpire. He ended up throwing four innings and giving up one run.

Cole’s breaking ball sharpened and he settled in nicely in the third, fourth, and fifth, holding the Rays at two runs. The fourth ended with a 105.8-mph Yandy Díaz lineout to Harrison Bader out in deep right center. That’s a whole lot of hard contact in five innings. This really isn’t surprising given underlying metrics: Cole’s Statcast page has mostly elite marks when it comes to his pitch metrics, but shows his average and max exit velocity at a tick above the 50th percentile.

Tonight, given that the Yankees’ ace threw over 50 pitches in the first couple frames, he was only able to get through five. Cole lobbied in the dugout for a chance to come out for the sixth, but his night was done at five innings and 95 pitches. He was shaky for sure and his final line came out to five hits, two earned runs, and two walks.

The next Yankees hit wouldn’t come until the fifth inning, when Bader reached on a misplay by Wander Franco that was scored a hit. He was immediately erased when Kiner-Falefa grounded into a double play. After that deflating rally-killer, Volpe reenergized the dugout with an opposite-field howitzer to knot the game at 2-2.

Jose Trevino then poked a single to right field, but Oswaldo Cabrera grounded out to end the inning.

Ian Hamilton graduated to high leverage when he came into the tied game in the sixth. He walked a batter and allowed a hit but escaped unscathed, notching three strikeouts while showing off some filthy stuff. Michael King then came in to pitch the seventh and used his sinker and sweeper to work a scoreless inning.

The Yankees finally broke the tie after the seventh-inning stretch against new pitcher Kevin Kelly with a couple of singles. Bader reached on a fielder’s choice, followed by a Jake Bauers pinch-hit single. Volpe drove in Bader with a single, then with two outs, Oswaldo Cabrera singled to score Bauers, grabbing the lead at 4-2.

King’s second inning of work started with two bloop hits, one from Paredes and one from Ramírez. Josh Lowe then promptly hit a center-cut two-seamer into the left field seats to give the Rays a 5-4 lead, sending a pall over the stadium.

After another hit, King departed having thrown 1.1 innings, giving up four hits and three earned runs, all on the Lowe dinger. Clay Holmes entered and averted any more damage in the inning.

Judge walked in the home eighth, bringing Rays skipper Kevin Cash out of the dugout signaling for the righty Jason Adam. Rizzo then brought the crowd to its feet by going deep for the second time on the night.

The 2016 World Series champion has delivered over and over since donning the pinstripes, and he got a Yankee Stadium curtain call for his efforts tonight.

Wandy Peralta came in to lock down the save and did so without a hitch. This win means the Yankees can still win this series and make up at least one game of ground on Tampa Bay this weekend; they’ll try to take another step toward that goal tomorrow afternoon, when 2022 All-Stars Nestor Cortes and Shane McClanahan go toe-to-toe at 1:05pm ET.

In a season with too many rip-your-heart-out losses, perhaps Rizzo’s heroics and the raucous crowd can spark a hot streak for the last-place Yankees. This is the way.

Box Score