The Rays are for real. If you still have some doubts, just ask the Yankees.
With a 10-5 win over the Yankees on Thursday at Yankee Stadium, the Rays swept the three-game set and now have sole possession of first place in the American League East.
Tampa Bay, which has won just two series in the Bronx since 2015, swept a series of three or more games at Yankee Stadium for just the third time in franchise history and the first time since 2014.
But right now it hasn’t mattered where the Rays play the Yankees, as Tampa Bay is 6-1 against its division rival this season and has outscored New York by 10 runs in the seven meetings.
“Big day today,” said manager Kevin Cash. “The guys worked hard to get here and get to that spot. We have plenty of challenges ahead of us, but you don’t have many road trips like we just had, so hopefully they all feel good and enjoy the flight.”
As has been the case throughout the road trip, the Rays got contributions from everybody in the lineup. The Rays are known for their run prevention, but it's the offense that has led the recent surge. With the 10 runs scored on Thursday, they lead the AL with 141 runs scored, with 76 of those coming over the last 10 games.
On Thursday it was Joey Wendle and Mike Zunino who delivered the big hits. Wendle delivered the team’s first hit, in the fifth inning, and it was a big one -- a two-run double off Yankees starter James Paxton that tied the score. Wendle also contributed with a go-ahead RBI single in the sixth inning, setting the stage for Zunino.
Zunino, who has struggled offensively this season, capped a five-run sixth with a three-run homer off reliever Luis Avilán that gave the Rays an 8-4 lead. The exit velocity on Zunino’s home run was 110.6 mph.
“He had a big series for us,” Cash said. “We’re all happy for him, because he’s put the work in.”
Though it was the offense that carried the day on Thursday, the pitching staff has also been responsible for the team's success against New York this season. In seven head-to-head matchups, the Rays’ pitching staff has dominated the Yankees’ lineup, limiting them to eight home runs and an average of 3.42 runs per game. Against every other team, the Yankees have hit 37 home runs in 18 games and averaged 6.17 runs per game.
“It’s incredible that we have 28 guys, which is three more than we’re used to having, and it seems like every single person is being used all the time,” Wendle said. “Which is just a testament to the depth that we have as an organization. Big pitches from our bullpen today. That lineup is tough, even with three of their big hitters missing. Hats off to them.”
With Thursday’s win, the Rays went 9-1 during their 10-game road trip, matching the 2010 team for the best three-city trip in franchise history. According to Stats LLC, the Rays also became just the fifth team in Major League history to sweep a series of three or more games at Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium on the same road trip, and the first since the 1990 A’s.
“We’re excited,” Wendle said. “I mean, we just won nine out of 10 on the road, just swept the Yankees in New York. That’s fun stuff. Everybody is happy, everybody is in a pretty good mood right now. We’re 25 games into the season, so we know that we have 35 -- or however more of these -- left and we’re focused on that, but it’s also encouraging to come out of [Yankee Stadium] with three wins.”
How the Rays were able to accomplish the 9-1 road trip might be even more impressive. During the road trip, they placed pitchers Andrew Kittredge, Yonny Chirinos, Charlie Morton and José Alvarado -- all key contributors to the pitching staff -- on the injured list. They also got word that top pitching prospect Brendan McKay was going to be out for the season after undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery, putting a dent on the starting pitching depth. Not to mention that they spent most of their time inside their hotel rooms over the last 11 days.
But despite the challenges, the Rays found ways to piece things together in every aspect of the game and are flying back to St. Petersburg atop the AL East.
“For us, it’s one game at a time, one series at a time,” Zunino said. “This is a young group that brings a lot of energy. … I think we had a great year last year, but we know where we want to get to ultimately, and we’ll continue to build off that.”