The Yankees and Rays started this series with a wild extra-inning affair, and apparently decided they wanted more of the same tonight. The standard nine innings held plenty of intrigue, but the fireworks didn’t come out until the 11th inning rolled around.
Aaron Judge led off the inning against Ryne Stanek, and deposited the first pitch he saw into center field. Judge’s ninth blast of the season broke a 4-4 tie, but the Yankees weren’t satisfied with a one-run lead. Gleyber Torres came up with two outs, and after surviving a Tropicana Field special foul ball over the playing field, kept the rally alive with a single punched to left. Gio Urshela doubled to put them both in scoring position, but Brett Gardner scored them without trouble with a three-run jack to center.
David Hale had entered the game in the ninth inning and got the Yankees crucial mileage as the game entered extras before turning the ball over to Aroldis Chapman. Hale recorded the first out of the 11th, but let on two baserunners before exiting. Chapman quickly struck out Guillermo Heredia for the second out, then got fixated on skimming the outside corner to Travis d’Arnaud, and ultimately walked him. Chapman fell behind to Tommy Pham as well, but induced a line drive that flew straight into the glove of DJ LeMahieu to end the game.
Prior to extras, the Yankees recovered from another blip late in a game against a divisional rival. New York got on the board right away in the first, thanks to a Judgian blast out to right. The offense worked the bases loaded in the fifth inning, and Mike Tauchman punched a single through to the outfield to score a pair of runners for a 3-1 lead.
Masahiro Tanaka cruised through the first three innings of the game, but trouble found him beginning in the fourth. Tanaka got beat on a 3-2 pitch to Nate Lowe leading off the inning, putting the Rays on the board. Mike Zunino greeted the fifth inning in the same fashion, bringing the Rays within one run, and Zunino’s walk in the sixth inning with a runner on knocked Tanaka out of the game.
Nestor Cortes Jr. came in to try and get out of the jam, but he was unsuccessful in putting out the fire. Cortes hit Austin Meadows with his fifth pitch to load the bases, struck out Pham to get the second out of the inning, but served up a single to Kevin Kiermaier that brought home two. Meadows ran into an out at third, but not before the damage was done.
Aaron Hicks bailed out the pitchers immediately in the seventh, however. The center fielder pinch-hit to lead off the inning, and ripped a game-tying home run to right that wound up forcing extras. Cortes was able to deliver a clean eighth inning before handing off to Hale, and the comeback was fully in motion.
The drama of the last two nights has had a big impact on the standings. The Yankees now stand 8.5 games ahead in first place in the AL East, having clinched at least a series split against Tampa Bay before the All-Star Break. If the Yankees can complete a sweep, they’ll have a commanding double-digit lead over the rest of the AL East, and at worst can leave with the 6.5-game lead they entered the series with. Considering the Bombers are now 9-2 this season against the Rays, and the demoralizing way they won these first two, they’re in great position to finish a statement series before the break.