The Yankees headed into this three-game set hoping to put some distance between them and the slumping Rays in the AL East standings. After last night's excitement, they seemed prepared to get the job done in a much tidier fashion, as Michael Pineda outdueled Nathan Karns and Dellin Betances was given a 2-0 lead in the ninth. An unexpected Tampa rally made matters interesting, but the Yankees had a rally of their own in the bottom half, leading to their second straight walk-off victory.
Although the Yankees' offense was not terribly productive against a very effective Karns, they did give Pineda a lead right off the bat. Brett Gardner, Chase Headley, and Alex Rodriguez all began the game with singles, scoring Gardner to put the Yankees on top, 1-0. One of Friday's heroes, Mark Teixeira, then brought a second run across with a sacrifice fly deep enough to center to score Headley from third. From that point on though, Karns was tremendous. Over the next 6 2/3 innings, the Yankees failed to score or even put up much of a threat against him. They only totaled two hits and two walks for the rest of the game as Karns fanned 10 Yankees.
Likewise, it took Pineda a little while to settle into a groove this afternoon, as despite striking out the side in the top of the first, the Rays put a pair of baserunners on with singles, and then in the second, Asdrubal Cabrera led it off with a double and Kevin Kiermaier followed with a walk. While Karns did yield some runs due to his early struggles, Pineda worked around it. He was also the benefactor of an awful decision by the Rays; Jake Elmore squared around to bunt with Cabrera and Kiermaier on. He popped it up right to John Ryan Murphy behind the plate. Whether that decision was made by Elmore or rookie Rays manager Kevin Cash is unclear, but it basically killed the inning right then and there. Curt Casali struck out and Grady Sizemore, who amusingly is still playing baseball, officially ended it on a grounder to third.
The Rays could only put two more baserunners on against Pineda after the second, and one of them came at the start of the eighth inning. He posted the fourth double digit strikeout game of his young career, as the Rays fanned 10 times over his seven innings of work. Simply put: Pineda was dazzling on a day when the Yankees' bullpen really needed a bit of rest. Casali's double in the eighth knocked Pineda out after 98 pitches, but Justin Wilson provided ample relief by striking out both Brandon Guyer and f Butler.
Going for the four-out save, Betances entered with Evan Longoria due up, and he stranded Casali on an easy grounder. Unfortunately, the ninth would not treat him quite as well. James Loney continued his annoying tradition of pounding the Yankees with a leadoff single and Steven Souza caught up to a Dellin fastball, sending it a long way. The two-run bomb to left tied the game at 2-2, taking the air out of Yankees fans. To his credit, Betances shook it off and retired the next three batters in order, striking out two Rays in the process to keep the game knotted at two runs apiece.
In the bottom of the ninth, the Rays countered with their own fine closer, Brad Boxberger, who entered today's action with a 2.48 ERA, 45 strikeouts, and 20 saves in 35 appearances. However, the first batter he had to face was the red-hot Teixeira, who smashed a double down the right field line past the shifted defense to give the Yanks a tremendous chance to win the game with the speedier Jose Pirela pinch-running at second. Chris Young oddly squared around to bunt on the first pitch after the double, but eventually battled back from down 0-2 to work a walk in an excellent at-bat.
Joe Girardi also had Ramon Flores go for the bunt, and he got it down. The ball went back to Boxberger, who briefly thought about going for the force on Young at second. He fired to first wildly and the ball went off Loney's glove. Pirela never stopped running, and he rounded third to score the winning run just before Casali put the tag on him. The two teams are bolting in opposite directions now, as they Yankees captured their third in a row to stay in first place while the Rays saw their losing streak extended to seven games. They now sit three games behind the Yankees in the AL East standings, ahead of only the Red Sox.
The dramatics are exciting, but hopefully the Yankees can take care of business tomorrow afternoon in a tidier manner! They will go for the series sweep as Ivan Nova takes on Erasmo Ramirez at 1:05pm.
Enjoy the rest of your Independence Day, everyone!