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Font-astic! Vet gets 1st win as Rays blank Yanks

Backed by early runs, righty fires 5 2/3 strong innings
Special to MLB.com

ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays right-hander Wilmer Font made shutting down one of baseball's most potent offenses look easy Saturday. He set the tone for a patchwork pitching plan and his teammates generated enough firepower for Tampa Bay to stymie the suddenly silent Yankees, 4-0, at Tropicana Field.

Font (1-3), the starter on the so-called "bullpen day," was tasked with going as long as he could before reinforcements were needed. That turned out to be longer than expected, as Font threw 5 2/3 solid innings -- his longest outing in the Majors -- and allowed only three hits, walking just one and striking out four. It was the 28-year-old's first MLB victory (in his 26th appearance and fourth start).

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ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays right-hander Wilmer Font made shutting down one of baseball's most potent offenses look easy Saturday. He set the tone for a patchwork pitching plan and his teammates generated enough firepower for Tampa Bay to stymie the suddenly silent Yankees, 4-0, at Tropicana Field.

Font (1-3), the starter on the so-called "bullpen day," was tasked with going as long as he could before reinforcements were needed. That turned out to be longer than expected, as Font threw 5 2/3 solid innings -- his longest outing in the Majors -- and allowed only three hits, walking just one and striking out four. It was the 28-year-old's first MLB victory (in his 26th appearance and fourth start).

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"It's exciting, and I'm very happy," said Font, who was acquired by the Rays on May 25 and is playing with his third organization (Dodgers, Athletics) this season. "I was trying to attack from the start. The first pitch was very important. After that, work the corners. I felt very, very good today."

Video: NYY@TB: Font strikes out Judge in the 1st

"We acquired a guy [Font] who early in the season [was ineffective], although numbers can be misleading, and he has helped us in a big way," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "He got awkward-looking swings from some very good hitters."

Font's effort was ably supported by four Rays relievers -- Jonny Venters, Ryne Stanek, Chaz Roe and Sergio Romo -- who continued to hold the Yankees' offense in check.

The Yankees, who lost back-to-back games for the first time since May 22 and 23, have scored just one run in their past 25 innings. It was only the second time this season they have been shut out.

Only two runners reached scoring position against Font. Stanton doubled to lead off the second and advanced to third on a sacrifice fly, but Font stranded him there by striking out Greg Bird and inducing a groundout off the bat of Miguel Andujar.

Yankees catcher Austin Romine led off the third with a double, but never reached third base.

"It's amazing each day how much buy-in we get [from the pitchers on bullpen days]," Cash said. "We're doing some unique things, some questionable things that people are scratching their heads at. But these pitchers do a tremendous job of buying in. Every decision that we make, a lot of thought goes into it. We're not throwing something up against the wall. It has allowed us to stay in a lot of ballgames."

"I feel like the entirety of the staff, everybody, is throwing the ball well and passing the baton off to the next guy," Stanek said. "No matter the role, nobody is playing selfish. It's whatever is best for the team. Everybody has embraced that."

Yankees starter Sonny Gray (5-5) was equally dazzling at times, hitting a mid-game stretch in which he retired 15 consecutive batters. But the Rays got to Gray early, building a 3-0 advantage after two innings.

In the first, Kevin Kiermaier led off with a single -- breaking an 0-for-13 skid since being reinstated from the disabled list -- and scored on Jake Bauers' opposite-field double to left.

Video: NYY@TB: Bauers laces an RBI double to left

In the second, C.J. Cron and Daniel Robertson led off with back-to-back doubles. Robertson then reached third on Mallex Smith's sacrifice bunt and scored on Willy Adames' single.

Video: NYY@TB: Robertson belts an RBI double off the wall

Gray escaped further damage by getting Bauers to fly out with runners on first and second, then settled in until an Adames opposite-field homer chased him in the seventh.

Video: NYY@TB: Adames slugs a solo homer to right

MOMENT THAT MATTERED
When Font issued a two-out sixth-inning walk to Judge, he was lifted. Following a passed ball, Didi Gregorius hit a hard grounder up the middle off Venters. The hot smash was gloved by a diving Robertson at second, but there was no play, putting runners at first and third. Stanek was summoned for the power-on-power matchup and struck out Giancarlo Stanton on a 98-mph fastball.

Video: NYY@TB: Stanek gets out of a jam with a K

"I just wanted to attack," Stanek said. "That was the strategy: attack. He's up there to drive in runs, but I wanted him to try and hit my pitch."

SOUND SMART
Font's last two appearances (both starts) were against the Yankees, and he has allowed just one earned run in 10 1/3 innings in those outings. Since joining the Rays, Font is 1-1 with a 1.63 ERA and a .177 batting average allowed in eight appearances. Prior to joining the Rays, Font was 0-2 with a 12.71 ERA in 10 relief appearances with the Dodgers and A's.

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
In the third inning, Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner lifted a one-out fly ball into short center field that seemed destined to drop. But after a long run, Kiermaier slid and made the spectacular catch.

Video: NYY@TB: Kiermaier charges and slides for a great grab

HE SAID IT
"When it works, it's fun." -- Cash, on the Rays' bullpen-day strategy

UP NEXT
After originally planning to start left-hander Blake Snell (9-4, 2.48) on Sunday, the Rays instead will have a bullpen day and use right-hander Matt Andriese as the "opener,'' tasking him with getting the first 3-6 outs. Meanwhile, they'll face fast-rising Yankees rookie Domingo German (2-4, 4.77 ERA), who earned his first win of the season against the Rays earlier this month. He has at least nine strikeouts in each of his past three starts, matching Luis Severino for the longest such streak by a Yankees pitcher since 2012. Game time for the series finale is 1:10 p.m. ET.

Joey Johnston is a contributor to MLB.com based in St. Petersburg.

Tampa Bay Rays, Wilmer Font