Brett Gardner delivered a tiebreaking single in the top of the fifth inning and made a game-saving catch an inning later as the New York Yankees inched closer to securing home-field advantage in the American League wild-card game with a 4-1 victory over the host Tampa Bay Rays on Monday night at Tropicana Field.
The Yankees (96-60) lowered their magic number to five for ensuring the wild-card game against Oakland will be played at Yankee Stadium. The A’s (95-62) won 7-3 later Monday night in Seattle to stay within 1 1/2 games of New York.
The Yankees also eliminated the Rays from playoff contention, two days after the Yankees clinched their spot.
Gardner, who has lost playing time to Andrew McCutchen in recent weeks, entered the game after Aaron Hicks experienced tightness in his left hamstring running to first base in the fourth.
He snapped a 1-1 tie with a bloop single to center field off Ryan Yarbrough (15-6) that scored Aaron Judge, who walked and reached second on a passed ball. After Gardner’s hit, Giancarlo Stanton made it 3-1 with a double.
Gardner helped preserve the lead in the sixth by backpedaling on Brandon Lowe’s fly ball and making a leaping catch just in front of the warning track in left-center field and stranding runners at first and third for David Robertson.
Following Gardner’s defensive gem, Judge made it 4-1 with a double in the seventh.
McCutchen homered in the third and scored on Judge’s hit on a night when the Yankees used an opener for the first time to rest their regular starters.
Jonathan Holder and Stephen Tarpley began the game with a scoreless inning apiece. Sonny Gray (11-9) allowed a run in two innings before five relievers finished the two-hitter.
Chad Green, Robertson, Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances pitched an inning apiece before Zach Britton notched his third save with the Yankees.
The Rays scored their run in the fourth when Tommy Pham doubled, took third on catcher Gary Sanchez’s major league-worst 16th passed ball and scored on a double-play grounder by Lowe.
It was the 52nd time the Rays used a pitcher as the opener instead of a regular starting pitcher. It was the 12th time Diego Castillo did it and he pitched two scoreless innings.
The game was nearly delayed by a power outage. About 40 minutes before first pitch, the lights went out due to heavy thunderstorms outside, but power was restored in time.
—Field Level Media