The nice thing about having your rivals square off against one another is that you’re guaranteed to gain ground on someone…provided you keep winning yourself, of course. For the Yankees lately, that hasn’t been much of an issue.
New York picked up their seventh straight victory on Saturday, riding a masterful performance by Masahiro Tanaka to a 5-1 win over the Rays. With Toronto having defeated Boston earlier in the day, the Yankees remain one game out in the American League wild card race, but move to just three games out in the division.
Tanaka dazzled all afternoon, but was matched by Rays’ starter Chris Archer as the two traded scoreless innings through five. Entering the bottom of the sixth, the Yankees had managed just one hit all afternoon. The bats came to Tanaka’s aid in that inning though, beginning with a leadoff single from Brett Gardner. A batter later, Jacoby Ellsbury launched a home run into right field that broke the scoreless tie and gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead. One batter after that, Gary Sanchez went full Gary Sanchez, launching a rocket that landed in the Tampa bullpen in left-center field.
Armed with a 3-0 lead, Tanaka went back to work, sitting the Rays down in order in the seventh. When he returned for the eighth, Tampa finally broke through. With none on and one out, catcher Bobby Wilson ripped a ball that landed just out of Gardner’s reach in the left-field stands. With the lead cut to 3-1, Tanaka plunked Logan Forsythe to bring the tying run to the plate, and Joe Girardi was forced to make a move to the bullpen. Tanaka ended the day with eight and 1/3 innings of one-run ball, scattering five hits and striking out ten.
Adam Warren would hit the first batter he saw as well, but would get Evan Longoria to tap into a 6-4-3 double play to escape trouble. The Yankees would tack on a pair of insurance runs in the bottom half, and Richard Bleier and Tyler Clippard combined to net the final three outs and preserve the victory in the ninth.
The Play: Ellsbury’s tie-breaking homer (+.224 WPA)
Archer had been dominant all day, holding the Yankees to just one hit through the first five innings. When Gardner started the sixth off with a single, Ellsbury capitalized by launching this shot into the right field stands. It was his eighth homer of the year and gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead.
Yankees: Masahiro Tanaka (7.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 10 K, 0 BB)
Rays: Bobby Wilson (1 for 3, 1 HR, 1 R, 1 RBI)
-Tanaka set a season-high with ten strikeouts on the afternoon. He came one shy of his career-high of 11.
-With runners on second and third and no outs in the eighth inning, the Rays appeared to call for an intentional walk to Sanchez. The ball wandered too close to the plate however, and Sanchez swung. The ball looked to travel roughly 400 feet before settling into Mikie Mahtook’s glove at the warning track in death valley. It went down as a sacrifice fly in the scorebook, but it further added to Sanchez’s legend for those watching. He might take you deep even when you’re trying to intentionally walk him.
“The guys feel really good about themselves. We’ve been playing really, really well. We’ve been playing tough teams for a long time, and the focus has been to win series. We’ve done a good job of that. We’re scoring runs, we’re pitching well and the bullpen has been outstanding. It’s a great combination.” -Joe Girardi on the team’s confidence level
The Highlight: Gary is good
Sanchez had slowed down a bit since his torrid 11-homer August. Apparently he decided he preferred hitting mammoth homers to not, as he has now once again found the cheap seats in each of the last two games. This, his 13th home run, came off his bat at 100 mph and traveled 420 feet according to Statcast.
The Yankees have won the first three games of the series against Tampa, and they’ll go for the four-game sweep when they take on the Rays on Sunday. They’ll send Luis Cessa to the mound to take on Matt Andriese. As mentioned earlier, with Toronto and Boston squaring off against one another, the Yankees have the power to gain ground on someone if they’re able to keep up their winning ways. Game time is 1:05 pm.
Lead photo: Wendell Cruz / USA Today Sports