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Yankees 9, Rays 8: Biggest win of the year

Aaron Judge led the comeback after Cortes fell apart.

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

Last week, the Yankee ace and one of the Cy Young favorites was given a six run lead, a lead that evaporated and saw New York lose. Today was a near-mirror-image of that game, where Shane McClanahan was spotted six, and the whole game unraveled. This version is a much preferred one to last week’s debacle, as the Yankees guaranteed a split with a huge 9-8 victory on Saturday afternoon.

For Nestor Cortes, he continued this disturbing trend of leaving pitches up in the zone. Fastballs up can be an effective strategy, but there’s a fine line. You want to be above the swing plane of most hitters while staying close enough to the zone that you’re not an easy take.

Cortes is not on the good side of that line lately. He’s too high in the zone to engineer ground balls with consistency, but the pitches aren’t above the swing planes of hitters. The four-seam and cutter are still playing well off each other from time to time, but against good, power hitting teams, it becomes a timing question.

The other concern for Cortes is how he seems to run out of gas much earlier than last year.

This fits in exactly with how today’s start went. He wasn’t great but got by in the first four innings, allowing a run in the second, triggering two double plays, and recording a pair of strikeouts. Then the fifth inning rolled around and everything went wrong for the lefty. A pair of walks and Francisco Mejia’s single turned the lineup over with the bases loaded, and Yandy Díaz hit a 90 mph cutter over the wall to make the game 5-0. That was it for Cortes, who finished with three strikeouts against two walks, allowing six runs, all earned. His ERA now sits at an unsightly 5.53.

The lineup saved Cortes’ bacon, which is definitely not something we’ve said often this season. Shane McClanahan was never quite screwed on right, giving up hard contact almost from the word go. Eventually, that caught up to him, with Kyle Higashioka getting the Yankees on board immediately following that deflating top of the fifth.

After that, Aaron Judge took over the game. Judge had been cold since coming off the IL, and when you have his contract and the captaincy, the expectation is that you’re the star in games as important as today’s. And he was.

The Rays are one of the best defensive teams in the game, top five in OAA and top ten in DRS. They convert a lot of balls in play into outs. Ergo, BABOOP — seven walks against five strikeouts, and three home runs with each coming with a man on base, that’s how you beat a team that runs down balls in play.

We’d be remiss not to mention what happened right before Judge’s second home run, where Anthony Volpe ensured the big fly would give the Yankees the lead, not just tie. After a leadoff single, Volpe created a run all by himself:

Volpe’s struggled to find offensive consistency so far in his rookie season, but his skillset means that he can contribute in so many different ways. You can’t steal first base, but being able to cause this much chaos on the basepaths means Volpe can put up value even when he’s in a bit of a rut.

Oswaldo Cabrera added a two-run single for what ended up being very necessary insurance. Ron Marinaccio was ineffective, allowing a pair of baserunners that came around to score when Clay Holmes couldn’t close out the seventh inning. It wasn’t easy, with the Rays lining up 2-3-4 in the order for the ninth, but while Wandy Peralta did allow a walk, he was otherwise clean and the Yankees guaranteed at least a split in this series.

Today’s win means tomorrow’s is slightly less important, but taking three of four against the AL’s best club would still be a huge step forward for this team. The Yankees would have won four of these seven games in the last 10 days, with sometimes-shaky starting pitching and a still-incomplete lineup. Clarke Schmidt will be tasked with keeping these good vibes going, and first pitch comes at 1:05pm Eastern from the Bronx.

Box Score