Yanks 30 games over .500: 'Just a drop in the bucket'

Judge, Higashioka go deep as Cortes picks up sixth victory

June 16th, 2022

NEW YORK -- Something significant appears to be happening this season in the Bronx, where  leads the Majors in home runs and the Yankees seem to win almost every night.

Judge extended his Major League lead with his 25th home run and  launched a three-run blast to support Nestor Cortes' winning effort as the Yankees won for the 13th time in 14 games, posting a 4-3 victory over the Rays on Wednesday evening at Yankee Stadium.

"What we've done so far has been great, but … I think we're worried about the next game," Judge said. "I've been saying, that's what makes this team special. Tonight is over with; we'll celebrate this, but we've got another big one [Thursday] to go out and try to sweep these guys."

Improving to 30 games over .500, the Yankees (46-16) have won six consecutive games and 13 straight at home, their longest winning streak at the current Yankee Stadium. The Yanks haven't reeled off 13 straight wins in the Bronx since June 2-July 1, 1973, a string compiled at the original House that Ruth Built.

"We have some guys that are having great starts to their season individually, but everyone in that room has contributed in so many different ways," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "Defensively, running the bases, out of the 'pen, starting rotation … I think that gives everyone a lot of confidence going into each day, knowing we don't have to do it just one way."

Judge ripped an opposite-field 364-foot drive in the first inning off Tampa Bay's Shane McClanahan, supporting Cortes, who held the Rays to a run on three hits over 5 1/3 innings. Higashioka extended the Yanks' lead in the fifth with a three-run shot off McClanahan, punishing the Rays for an intentional walk ahead of him.

It was Higashioka's third homer of the year, coming after he went deep twice on Sunday against the Cubs, and the Yanks' 100th Major League-leading blast of the season.

"It feels like Judge and [Giancarlo] Stanton are always just hitting them over the fence," Higashioka said. "But there's some days where other people are going to have to step up. We have the kind of team where guys can do that."

The game featured a 16-minute rules check delay in the top of the eighth inning as umpires debated the Yankees' ability to remove right-hander Miguel Castro immediately after pitching coach Matt Blake visited the mound, attempting to determine if pinch-hitter Ji-Man Choi had been officially announced.

Ultimately, the Yanks were permitted to bring in Lucas Luetge, who allowed run-scoring hits to Choi and René Pinto. Clay Holmes used his power sinker to fire a scoreless ninth inning, earning his 11th save while matching Mariano Rivera's club record of 28 consecutive scoreless appearances.

"The movement on it, it's unlike anybody else's sinker in the game that I can see," Higashioka said. "It's a unicorn pitch. I don't know if anybody else has anything like it. I have a hard enough time catching it, so I can't imagine what it's like to try to hit it."

Thirty games over .500 is a significant milestone, enough so that Cortes said it prompted conversation behind closed doors in the players' lounge. The likely All-Star called the achievement "incredible," but not wholly unexpected within their group.

"I think this team can do a lot of great things," Cortes said. "The way we carry ourselves in here translates out there. Night in and night out, there's always a different guy stepping up to the occasion."

So how good are these Yankees -- and how far should we expect them to go? History provides a guide.

With the win, the Yankees are just the sixth team since baseball integrated in 1947 to win 46 of their first 62 games. They join the 2001 Mariners (49-13), the 1998 Yankees (47-15), '84 Tigers (46-16), '55 Dodgers (46-16) and the '53 Yankees (46-16) -- each of those teams except Seattle won the World Series.

This is also just the fifth different Yankees team in the Expansion Era (since 1961) to win 46 of 62 games in any span, joining the 2009, '98, '77, and '61 teams. Each of those clubs, too, raised a championship flag. Given that, the bar is precisely where George M. Steinbrenner would have placed it -- World Series or bust.

"It's an awesome number; an awesome record at this point," Boone said. "But I also think we're all very aware that we've got a long way to go. We've got 100 of these left. This is just a drop in the bucket -- it's a good deposit."