Two of the American League’s best pitchers squared off in The Bronx on Wednesday night, and as in most things lately, the Yankees came out on top — despite some tense moments late in the game.
Nestor Cortes bounced back from a rare poor start and the Yankees took advantage of another Rays error to jump on Shane McClanahan on the way to a 4-3 win.
The Yankees’ sixth straight win came with a dose of drama in the final innings.
In the ninth, an Anthony Rizzo bobble at first base allowed the leadoff man to reach against Clay Holmes. But the Yankees’ dominant closer rebounded to retire the next three batters, earning his 11th save and extending his scoreless streak to 30 innings.
The Yankees’ bullpen nearly spoiled Cortes’ strong start in the eighth inning, which included a 16-minute delay as manager Aaron Boone tried to make a pitching change.
Miguel Castro had retired the first two batters of the inning before getting in trouble when he gave up a double to Manuel Margot and hit Randy Arozarena with a pitch. After pitching coach Matt Blake visited with Castro on the mound as the Rays’ staff tended to Arozarena, Ji-Man Choi was announced as a pinch-hitter. At that point, catcher Kyle Higashioka took another mound visit to allow Lucas Luetge more time to warm up in the bullpen.
Boone then tried to make the pitching change, but was met by the umpires, who convened for a lengthy meeting to determine whether or not he was allowed to.
Finally Boone was cleared to call in Luetge, who went on to give up back-to-back singles that cut the lead to 4-3 before he escaped the jam.
Cortes (6-2) had left the game with a 4-1 lead after allowing just one run over 5 ¹/₃ innings. It was a strong rebound from last Wednesday at Minnesota, when the Twins battered him for four runs on seven hits in 4 ¹/₃ innings.
A night after the Rays made a pair of errors that led to both of the runs in the Yankees’ 2-0 win, they provided another gift on Wednesday that came back to sting.
In the fifth inning, with the Yankees up 1-0 on Aaron Judge’s 25th home run, Josh Donaldson led off by hitting a catchable fly ball to right-center field. But Brett Phillips — who had entered the game two innings earlier for the sure-handed Kevin Kiermaier (Achilles inflammation) — let it hit off his glove as Donaldson reached second base.
Two outs later, after McClanahan fell behind 3-0 to Isiah Kiner-Falefa, the Rays intentionally walked him.
Higashioka came up next and made the Rays pay, crushing a three-run homer just inside the left-field foul pole to put the Yankees up 4-0. After not hitting a home run in his first 34 games of the season, Higashioka has now gone deep three times in his last two games.
Meanwhile, Cortes did not allow a hit until the third inning, when Yandy Diaz smoked a one-out double.
Cortes responded by retiring the next eight batters in a row before Diaz doubled again to lead off the sixth. This time, the Rays were able to cash in, as Margot followed one out later by roping a double down the third base line to get Tampa Bay within 4-1.
After Cortes walked Arozarena on four pitches, Boone pulled him for Wandy Peralta. The left-handed reliever worked his magic, getting a fielder’s choice and a strikeout to strand runners on the corners.
Peralta then tossed a perfect seventh inning with two more strikeouts, lowering his ERA to 1.50.