Heading into the week, one of the series with the most intrigue was the Rays visiting the Yankees for the first time this season. The two teams previously split a doubleheader down in St. Petersburg and the Yankees left with a 4 1/2 game lead. It wasn’t even that long ago, but the Rays came into this one down nine games and in third place.
The Yankees took the first game Tuesday, 2-0. Wednesday, they made sure the Rays couldn’t make up any ground in this series with a 4-3 victory.
The scoring got started in the first inning, by — who else? — Aaron Judge. He went deep again.
Pretty impressive to keep his hands inside that ball that is in and moving even further in as a breaking ball from a lefty does to a righty. That lefty would be Rays ace Shane McClanahan, who came into the game with a 1.87 ERA and an MLB-best 98 strikeouts.
This game could have been billed as a battle of aces or even just a bout between All-Star pitchers. Nestor Cortes got the win by allowing just three hits and a run in 5 1/3 innings of work. McClanahan gave up just one earned run (the Judge homer) in his six innings on three hits, but an error opened the door to a three-run Yankees fifth inning, making him the hard-luck loser.
McClanahan has a 1.84 ERA and 0.86 WHIP this season. Cortes is at 1.94 and 0.93, respectively.
The Rays won the AL East in both 2020 and 2021, but they’ll need a huge — and, frankly, historic — comeback to do it again. The Yankees now lead them by 11 games. The series finale is Wednesday and perhaps the Rays can salvage a game to cut the deficit to 10, but they’ve still lost ground this week.
To make matters worse, they have bigger problems than the Yankees. The Rays now trail the Blue Jays by two games for second place and the Red Sox are only 1 1/2 games behind them. Right now, those three AL East teams would be the three AL wild cards, but the Guardians are right on their heels.
On the Yankees’ end, they’ve now won six in a row. That’s already the second six-game winning streak in June (they won seven in a row through June 7, lost a game and now have six straight wins). This six-gamer is only their third-longest winning streak of the season, after 11 from April 22 to May 3 and the recent seven-game string.
Also of note, this marks a 13-game home winning streak for the Yankees. That’s the longest in the newest incarnation of Yankee Stadium. Previously, they won 12 straight between 2019 and 2020.