Coming into tonight's action, the Yankees were focused on securing another series victory without having to worry about the last of this three-game set against the division rival Rays. Their excitement was thrown for a loop when news broke of Masahiro Tanaka's injury, which as released in the middle of the game. Fortunately, the team was undeterred and used a quick start to take down Tampa by a score of 4-2.
Righty Jake Odorizzi had an ERA under 2.00 prior to tonight's start for the Rays, but the Yankees wasted no time in getting on the board. Jacoby Ellsbury led off the game with an opposite-field single, then put the pressure on catcher Rene Rivera by bolting to second with Brett Gardner at bat. Rivera came up with a poor throw, and Ellsbury moved to third after his successful steal. Gardner brought him home with a slow grounder, and a pair of Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann doubles put the Yankees on top, 2-0. Although Carlos Beltran and Garrett Jones stranded McCann at second (surprise, surprise), it was comforting to have the early edge.
The Yankees originally asked Chase Whitley to make the start tonight in order to give each member of the rotation an extra day off during this busy stretch of 30 games in 31 days. If his role escalates and becomes more consistent due to Tanaka's injury, they have to be comforted by his performance. He did throw 93 pitches in just five innings, but for a fill-in, it was more than acceptable given his solid work. Whitley bent but did not break, particularly in the second, when he worked out of a bases-loaded, one out jam without a run scoring. Tampa scored in the third when Steven Souza Jr. walked and Asdrubal Cabrera doubled him home, but that was the Rays' only run off Whitley. He struck out five batters with the lone walk to Souza and almost certainly earned himself another start. Go go other Chase.
In the bottom of the fifth, McCann helped give Whitley and the Yankees some insurance with another boost from the top of the lineup. Ellsbury and Gardner singled back-to-back, Gardner swiped second, and McCann defied the shift by lining a two-run double to left-center, giving the Yankees a much more comfortable 4-1 lead. That was especially important just a half-inning later, when Chasen Shreve relieved Chase Whitley (possibly for the lulz). The Rays immediately cut into the lead when James Loney walked and Logan Forsythe smacked a triple to deep left, making it a two-run game.
Shreve recovered to strike out Kevin Kiermaier, and in from the bullpen came tonight's unsung hero, Esmil Rogers. The long reliever was tasked with giving the Yankees' most frequently used bullpen arms a spell, and he came up big with 2 2/3 shutout innings of one-hit ball, matching Whitley with five strikeouts of his own. Long relievers don't often receive a lot of attention, but it was immensely valuable for Rogers to cover nearly three innings on his own tonight, allowing each of Dellin Betances, David Carpenter, and Justin Wilson to have days off. Then, one of the last men to make the team out of spring training, Chris Martin, entered for the save. Martin's scoreless ninth gave Andrew Miller a day off as well, as he earned his first career save with a relatively quiet frame. Excellent job by The Scientist.
The Yankees thus won their fourth straight series and will go for the sweep of the Rays tomorrow afternoon at 1:05 with Michael Pineda on regular rest against lefty Drew Smyly. Expect Alex Rodriguez to return to the lineup then and go for number 660. Get hyped.