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Yankees 6, Rays 2: Cole masterclass, DJ’s power set tone for series

Cole equaled a season-high in strikeouts while LeMahieu notched his first multi-home-run game since 2021.

MLB: New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

The Trop is regularly a house of horrors whenever the Yankees visit, but today they stamped their mark on the unholy dome. Gerrit Cole painted a masterpiece while DJ LeMahieu launched a pair of home runs to get the series started on the right note. In fact, the whole offense continues to show signs of life, logging back-to-back games with double-digit base hits en route to a victory in the series opener at the Rays, 6-2.

The Yankees had no answer for Zach Eflin last time they faced him and that trend continued through the early going today. He held them scoreless over six innings yielding three hits and no walks while striking out five on August 1st and he brought even nastier stuff to the ballpark today. He struck out a pair in each of the first five innings, navigating around an Anthony Volpe single in the second, singles by Oswald Peraza and DJ LeMahieu in the third, and an Isiah Kiner-Falefa double in the fourth.

New York did manage to break through in the fifth with LeMahieu lifting a two-out wall-scraping solo shot to left. It was his tenth of the year, giving the Yankees a 1-0 lead.

An inning later saw them really start to attack Eflin as he tired upon reaching the end of his rope. New York put a pair on with no outs on a Gleyber Torres leadoff single and Giancarlo Stanton walk, but a pair of quick lineouts on a pair of at ‘em balls by Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Anthony Volpe threatened to squander the scoring opportunity. Just when it seemed the BABIP gods were laughing down on the Yankees, Everson Pereira came through with a clutch opposite field single to plate Torres and double the Yankees’ lead, 2-0.

Eflin would strike out Peraza to end the inning and his outing, giving him a career-high 11 on the night. He’s given the Yankees fits since joining the Rays as their record free agent signing over the winter, but was simply out-dueled by his counterpart Cole.

Speaking of Cole, this was up there among his best performances in pinstripes. He had immaculate command of the fastball, getting more whiffs underneath ones located at the top of the zone than I can remember in quite a while. This ability to first establish and then spot the heater wherever and whenever he wanted forced the Rays hitters to gear up a little extra early, turning his slider into a swing-and-miss machine. Tampa whiffed on a whopping 50 percent of their swings against the slider, highlighted by a dominant fifth inning when he struck out the side.

Cole lasted two batters into the eighth, getting pulled for Jonathan Loáisiga, who unfortunately allowed his inherited runner to score to close the book on Cole’s line. Fortunately, the official scorer changed the ruling to an error on the baserunner Cole allowed, improving the Yankees ace’s final line to 7.2 innings, three hits, two runs (one earned), and no walks, tying a season-high 11 strikeouts on 100 pitches. It drops his ERA to an AL-best 2.95 as he continues to push for his first Cy Young Award.

Unlike many of his recent lights-out starts, Cole was finally provided with a comfortable cushion by his offense. In the seventh, LeMahieu and Judge drew one-out walks, the former scoring on an automatic double down the left field line by Torres. With men on second and third, Giancarlo Stanton smashed a double off the left-center field wall to plate both runners and extend the Yankees’ lead to 5-1.

LeMahieu wrapped up his team’s scoring with a two-out solo shot the following inning, this one a no-doubter to left. It was his first multi-home run game since May 7, 2021, his first multi-home run game on the road as a Yankee, and his fifth overall in pinstripes.

Despite allowing the Rays’ second run to score in the eighth, Loáisiga otherwise looked sharp, converting the final four outs of the game to wrap up victory for the Yankees, 6-2.

Tomorrow, the Yankees will go for their first series win since sweeping the Royals in the third week of July. Clarke Schmidt hopes to continue his strong summer facing off against Tyler Glasnow. First pitch is scheduled for 4:10 pm ET so be sure to join us in the game thread!

Box Score