EditorsNote: Corrects Yankees wildcard lead over Twins to three games
Hechavarria helps Rays even series with Yankees
NEW YORK — First Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash followed the template New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi used Monday night. Then Rays shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria hit the homer he barely missed hitting a little less than 24 hours earlier.
Four Rays relievers combined to blank the Yankees in the final four innings and Hechavarria’s homer in the eighth inning snapped a tie and lifted Tampa Bay to a 2-1 victory at Citi Field.
“Good win,” Cash said. “Man, that was pretty exciting, the way it played out.”
The second game of a three-game series relocated from Tropicana Field due to Hurricane Irma’s impact on Florida’ Gulf Coast was a taut, October-worthy pitchers’ duel after the Yankees and Rays swapped runs in the first inning, when New York’s Matt Holliday laced an RBI double and Tampa Bay’s Kevin Kiermaier hit a leadoff homer.
Rays left-hander Blake Snell allowed just two hits in five-plus innings before giving way to a cadre of relievers that matched Yankees starter Sonny Gray pitch for pitch until Hechavarria’s homer.
Steve Cishek, who has 121 career saves, relieved Snell after Brett Gardner’s leadoff single in the sixth and allowed one hit in 1 2/3 innings while facing the Yankees’ second through seventh-place hitters. Those six batters have combined for 149 homers this season.
“Given how their lineup was shaped with (Aaron) Judge, (Gary) Sanchez, (Matt) Holliday, (Starlin) Castro, I felt like that was the perfect time to kind of bring in our right-handed weapon against their guys,” Cash said. “That was a big time of the game.”
It was just the 10th time this season, and the 17th time since 2015, that Cishek has entered a game before the seventh inning.
On Monday night, Yankees reliever David Robertson, who has 132 career saves, entered in the fifth inning for the first time since 2011 and picked up the win by throwing a career-high 2 2/3 innings in a 5-1 victory.
“Watch the pace of the game and kind of let the pace dictate how I get ready at this point,” Cishek said. “You’ve got to be ready from, I guess, the third inning on.”
Dan Jennings got the final out of the seventh before winning pitcher Tommy Hunter (3-5) threw a perfect eighth.
The Rays finally solved Gray — who retired 12 of 13 between the first and fifth and nine in a row from the fifth through eighth — when Hechavarria laced a one-out homer deep into the left field seats.
Hechavarria missed the cycle by a homer on Monday, when he flied out to the track in right in his final at-bat.
“Normally, I’m out of my element swinging that hard, I normally don’t swing that hard,” Hechavarria said through an interpreter. “But that at-bat I wanted to get something I could really handle.”
Alex Colome earned his major league-leading 44th save with a perfect ninth inning in which he induced three grounders to Hechavarria at shortstop.
Snell allowed two hits and two walks while striking out five for the Rays (72-74), who remained four games behind the Minnesota Twins in the race for the American League’s second wild card.
The Yankees (78-66) are three games ahead of the Twins for the first wild card.
Gray (9-10) took the hard-luck complete game loss despite allowing only five hits and one walk while striking out nine in eight innings.
“Most of the time, you give up two runs in eight innings, you’re going to win the game,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “But tonight, it wasn’t meant to be.”
Gray is 3-5 despite a 2.66 ERA in eight starts since the Yankees acquired him from the Oakland Athletics on July 31. New York has scored one run or fewer in all five of his losses.
“He has pitched really well for us, and it’s unfortunate,” Girardi said. “But over the long haul, if you pitch like that, it’s going to work out really well for everyone involved.”
NOTES: Rays OF Steven Souza Jr. returned to the lineup after missing three games with a bruised left knee. ... Yankees 1B Greg Bird (back) missed a second straight game. The left-handed-hitting Bird, who likely would have sat regardless against Rays LHP Blake Snell, said he felt better Tuesday but underwent an MRI as a precaution. ... The 2018 Major League Baseball schedule was released Tuesday. On Opening Day, March 29, the Yankees will visit the Toronto Blue Jays and the Rays will host the Boston Red Sox. The Yankees will host the Rays in their home opener on April 2.