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Yankees Rivalry Roundup: Aaron Nola dominates the Rays at the Trop

Recapping how the Yankees’ top AL opponents fared on Independence Day.

MLB: JUL 04 Phillies at Rays Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It was a terrific July 4th at Yankee Stadium yesterday, as New York jumped ahead early over Baltimore with quick two-run first, showed resiliency when the O’s came back to tie it at 3-3, and scored four between the seventh and eighth to win, 8-4. Honestly? That’s just really great stuff. There haven’t been a ton of terrific days for the Yankees in the post-Aaron Judge injury saga.

Of course, a couple good days against the Orioles won’t turn the Yankees around completely. Even now, they’re still staring up at the O’s and Rays in the standings. There’s plenty of work to do. Let’s check in on some of those rivals.

Texas Rangers (51-35) 6, Boston Red Sox (43-43) 2

The Red Sox tried to use a bullpen game against one of the best offenses in baseball. It worked for ... one inning. Hey, opener Brennan Bernardino did his job!

When Kaleb Ort came in for the top of the second, he had nothing at all. Ort entered with Nathaniel Lowe on first base from an infield hit, allowed a single to Ezequiel Duran, and then coughed up a 408-foot bomb to Mitch Garver that made it 3-1, Texas.

From there, it was all Rangers. Dane Dunning threw six innings of one-run ball, and both Robbie Grossman and Josh Jung added RBI double to increase the Rangers’ lead. Josh Sborz made it a little interesting in the ninth, but Will Smith entered with the tying run in the on deck circle to record the game’s final out: a popup from Alex Verdugo. The Rangers’ win helped them hold serve on their three-game AL West lead on the Astros.

Houston Astros (48-38) 4, Colorado Rockies (33-54) 1

With Jose Altuve scratched with some oblique discomfort and Jeremy Peña still out with a stiff neck, Houston turned to a lesser-known infielder to step in. In his first at-bat on Tuesday, 25-year-old rookie Grae Kessinger rewarded skipper Dusty Baker by belting his first career homer, a 397-foot blast off Rockies veteran Kyle Freeland to make it 1-0 in the third.

Mauricio Dubón has been filling in more often recently too, and he was also part of the offense on July 4th. His RBI triple in the fifth made it 2-0, and he also scored the game’s third run when Corey Julks drove him in. On the pitching side, righty Brandon Bielak was outstanding for Houston, shutting out the Rockies on two hits across seven shutout innings. Colorado’s only run came in the ninth, when Kris Bryant took Ryne Stanek deep shortly before the latter closed the door.

Philadelphia Phillies (45-39) 3, Tampa Bay Rays (57-31) 1

Tampa Bay might have thought that they shook off their recent dry spell with three wins in a row on the road against Arizona and Seattle. Now, however, they’ve dropped their last three games and have lost 9 of 15. Is that anywhere near the Yankees’ deepest struggles of 2023? Not at all; but any sort of slip-up from Tampa Bay is good news, particularly on a day where the Orioles obviously lost as well. Again, the Yankees still trail by eight games, but why not be hopeful?

As for this 2008 World Series rematch at the Trop, Aaron Nola simply outpitched old friend Zach Eflin. The former didn’t yield a run until the eighth inning, by which time he’d thrown 7.1 innings of excellence, striking out a dozen Rays while allowing just four hits. The fifth was a Wander Franco solo shot that knocked Nola out, but José Alvarado and Craig Kimbrel combined to hold the Rays down for the save, preserving Nola’s victory.

To his credit, Eflin only allowed four hits while fanning nine Phillies in seven innings. That’s a good enough line to win on most days, but Philly did a good job of sequencing their knocks.

Consecutive doubles from Bryson Stott and Alec Bohm in the second gave Rob Thomson’s ballclub the lead. They didn’t reach base again until the seventh, when Bryce Harper doubled, Franco committed a costly error at shortstop, and Stott plated Harper to make it 2-0. A failed catch from Josh Lowe in right enabled Kyle Schwarber to score from first with two outs in the eighth, sealing Tampa Bay’s fate with the Philly bullpen doing its job.

Toronto Blue Jays (46-40) 4, Chicago White Sox (37-50) 3

Chris Bassitt and Lucas Giolito each tossed quality starts, only surrendering runs in a single innings each. Giolito had allowed a two-run double to Whit Merrifield, but Luis Robert Jr. supported his pitcher with a 450-foot tank:

The three-run bomb was Robert’s 25th dinger of 2023, continuing a terrific All-Star season for the 25-year-old.

Unfortunately for Giolito, Robert, and ChiSox manager Pedro Grifol, there’s a reason that their club has been such a disappointment in 2023. Something always seems to go wrong, and on Independence Day, it was Joe Kelly. Sure, only one Toronto batter mustered a hit against him, but Vladimir Guerrero Jr. can do a lot of damage with one swing.

Toronto was back in front, 4-3, and Robert failed to bring Tim Anderson in from third after a one-out triple in the eighth. Erik Swanson got the slugger to pop up, and Eloy Jiménez flew out to strand the tying run. The Pale Hose went down in order at the hands of Jordan Romano in the ninth.

Other Games

  • Seattle Mariners (42-42) 6, San Francisco Giants (46-40) 0: Don’t count the M’s out just yet. Logan Gilbert was masterful while spinning a five-hit shutout, walking none and fanning seven. Mike Ford and AJ Pollock both went yard to help Seattle build up a safe lead to let Gilbert cook. The Mariners have now won four in a row and back-to-back over the Giants, and have returned to .500 for the first time since June 23rd.
  • San Diego Padres (40-46) 8, Los Angeles Angels (45-43) 5: With Mike Trout facing a lengthy IL stay due to a nasty hit-by-pitch on Monday, the pressure was on for the Halos to come up with a big win with Shohei Ohtani on the mound. Blister problems caused serious problems in the sixth, when the Padres already had a 2-1 edge. Manny Machado singled, Xander Bogaerts launched one out, Jake Cronenworth made it back-to-back, and Ohtani departed. It was a bad day for the Halos, especially since Anthony Rendon also got hurt and San Diego’s Joe Musgrove rolled.

AL Central Rock Fight

Minnesota Twins (44-43) 9, Kansas City Royals (25-61) 3
Cleveland Guardians (41-43) 6, Atlanta Braves (57-27) 5 (10 innings)

Kenta Maeda was brilliant against the Royals with seven innings of three-hit ball, fanning nine while homers from Byron Buxton, Donovan Solano, and Max Kepler put Minnesota up big. It was a rare two-win day from the top two teams in the AL Central, as the Guardians recovered from a game-tying homer by Ozzie Albies in the ninth (his second of the day) to win in 10 on David Fry’s walk-off single.