Plucky Rays find way to cap Yanks sweep

April 18th, 2021

Not every player will admit it -- or perhaps not every player believes it -- but something’s been happening lately when the Rays face the Yankees in New York. A switch flips. Tampa Bay gets right.

“This venue can motivate you really quick, and whatever you’re going through before you get here, you better wipe it out, find a way to wipe it out,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Because you’ve got to be at the top of your game to compete here.”

Cash made those remarks Saturday, and on Sunday his team pulled out a 4-2 victory at Yankee Stadium to complete a three-game sweep of its American League East foe. The sweep was Tampa Bay's second in its past three series (of three games or more) at Yankee Stadium, but only its fourth in franchise history. The Rays had just two sweeps in the Bronx from 1998-2019.

“It is gratifying to come in here and for the guys to find a way to complete a series and win three,” said Cash, whose Rays have won 18 of their past 23 against the Yankees. “It’s just not an easy thing to do, it doesn’t happen often, so you’ve got to enjoy it when it does.”

Another thing that doesn’t happen often is seeing Gerrit Cole on the losing side. The Yankees’ ace, who entered with a 1.19 ERA in his previous seven starts, typically offers his opponents limited breathing room.

That was the case again on Sunday, but the Rays made their chances count. Despite striking out 10 times against Cole, and slogging through an 0-for-13 stretch in the middle of the game, Tampa Bay bookended its biggest struggles with enough offense to scratch out a win.

In the third inning, the bottom of the order rolled over for the top, with Nos. 8 and 9 hitters and collecting a pair of singles to start. That put in position to score Zunino on his ensuing single, and Kiermaier came around on a sac fly from two batters later.

Cole cruised from there, using his four-pitch mix to near perfection. He finished the sixth inning at 98 pitches, with nine strikeouts and just the two runs allowed, and he remained in the tie game.

With one out in the seventh, ripped a letter-high heater to center field for a single. Wendle was a force this series, finishing 6-for-12 with two home runs. He also scored five runs, one of which came in the next at-bat thanks to a double by that halted a 1-for-15 skid.

Tsutsugo had proven he was locked in earlier in the game, working an eight-pitch at-bat off Cole in the second that resulted in a lineout to right field. Finally, as the last batter Cole faced, Tsutsugo was rewarded.

“Yoshi, he’s been working really hard,” Cash said. “Any time you’re working really hard behind the scenes and you get some rewards, it’s gotta be good for your psyche. The team has kind of put their arms around him, and I think everybody’s let him know, ‘You’re a big part of what we’re doing.’”

Added Tsutsugo: “When the results don’t come out as you want, I kind of got a little frustrated at times. But that’s when my teammates really talked to me and gave me advice, and that really helped. That’s what gave me more confidence again.”

It’s safe to say the Rays have more confidence again, too. All it took was a weekend trip to New York. They’ve now scored more runs in six games against the Yankees (36) than in 10 games against everyone else (32).

The Rays were a sluggish 5-8 when they arrived; they depart with a .500 record and a newfound bounce in their step. They’ve also helped send the Yankees (5-10) to their worst start since 1997 -- message sent, perhaps, from one rival to another?

“We’re not worried about that,” Tampa Bay pitcher said. “We feel like we’ve shown, over the past couple of years, what we’re about. I feel like we’re trying to focus on what we’re doing.”

A glance at the standings should get the message across anyway.