St. Petersburg, FL—If the NY Yankees plan to go deep in the post season Gerrit Cole has to pitch lights out this season.
Cole fanned 12 over eight innings, centerfield Aaron Hicks hit a long sacrifice fly to deep center and the Bronx Bombers beat the Tampa Bay Rays 1-0 on Wednesday night before Aroldis Chapman closed out the ninth.
Chapman completed the four-hitter to get his ninth save as the Yankees won consecutive games, including postseason, against Tampa Bay for the first time since July 16-18, 2019.
The Rays sprinkled in four hits, though one was a pop fly that caromed off a catwalk and another bunt single by Brandon Lowe, while striking out 12 times, including in two of the four at-bats with runners in scoring position.
“Pretty special night for a guy that is really, really good,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “You go into the game knowing your hands are full. But, saying that, he was probably (Wednesday) above and beyond. He had everything working the way he wanted.”
The loss dropped Tampa Bay back to .500 for the 10th time at 19-19, marking their first series loss to the Yankees since July 2019, having won six straight.
The Rays’ used five pitchers — Collin McHugh, Ryan Yarbrough, Ryan Thompson, Jeffrey Springs, and Louis Head — all pitched fairly well.
NY scored in the seventh inning. A leadoff single from Aaron Judge, then a first-pitch double to Gio Urshela is all the Yankees needed to seal the game.
“The second inning is a challenge, it always is,” Thompson said. “But there’s never a time where I go out there and say, ‘Oh, no, I don’t have it this inning.’ I threw a lot of strikes, I threw a lot of quality strikes. The pitch I threw to Urshela was a really good pitch. Just a better swing.”
After Thompson got one out in the seventh, Cash went to the pen and got lefty Jeffrey Springs to turn around switch-hitter Aaron Hicks. Springs got ahead but left an 0-2 slider up and Hicks lifted a sacrifice fly.
Tampa had a few chances to score but couldn’t muster that extra hit.
In the first, when Austin Meadows’ pop-up struck the B-ring catwalk above right field and dropped in for a one-out double. Manuel Margot grounded out, moving Meadows to third, but Cole struck out Lowe.
In the sixth, when Randy Arozarena lined a ball off the left field fence for a one-out double. Meadows grounded out, moving Arozarena up, but Cole did it again and struck out Margot.
The result was the Rays’ second shutout loss of the season and the ninth time in 38 games they were held to one or no runs. Their majors-worst average with runners in scoring position is down to .197 and .135 at home, 5-for-their-last-74.
Cole (5-1) scattered four hits and has five starts this season of at least 10 strikeouts and no walks to break Mike Mussina’s single-season team record set in 2001. He struck out all three batters in his final inning, including Brett Phillips on a 98 mph fastball to end the inning.
Shortstop Gleyber Torres sat out Wednesday’s game as a precaution after seven members of the staff tested positive for COVID-19. All seven had been vaccinated. Each member of the Yankees’ traveling party has also been tested at least three times since Tuesday.
“I certainly enjoy playing in meaningful games,” Cole said afterward. “There was a lot going on today and it was certainly a bit challenging to get focused for the game, but once you’re there it’s kind of business as usual, so I try to keep that mindset all the time and I think it’s helpful when there’s a little bit more on the line.”
The Bronx Bombers clinched the series victory, the first in Tampa since May of 2019.
“In a more normal environment, we’d be a little more focused on that stat, but we’re a little preoccupied with a virus running through the clubhouse right now,” he said. “Maybe it kept it simple for us. We just played baseball and tried to stay safe out here.”
The Yankees are 11-3 since dropping to 9-13 on April 26. Cole is leading the way. “He’s an ace. He’s an absolute bulldog,” Boone said.
Yankees RHP Jameson Taillon (1-2) will go against Rays LHP Rich Hill (1-1) in the series finale Thursday night.