Three hours before Gerrit Cole’s first pitch to Randy Arozarena at Tropicana Field, manager Kevin Cash made it clear what the Rays would be up against Wednesday night.
“The guy is special. You've got to take advantage of every little thing that's presented when he pitches,” Cash said. “You've got to be like perfect on the other side to give yourself a chance to win.”
In terms of pitching and defense, the Rays couldn’t have asked for a much better game. But they would've had to be perfect to beat Cole on this night. New York’s ace throttled Tampa Bay’s inconsistent offense with an eight-inning, 12-strikeout gem, as the Yankees dealt the Rays a 1-0 defeat.
“You go into the game knowing your hands are full, but saying that, he was probably tonight above and beyond,” Cash said. “He had everything working the way he wanted.”
Wednesday’s game was the ninth time this season that Tampa Bay was held to one run or less and the second time it was shut out. The Rays have fallen back to .500, at 19-19, after losing back-to-back games against the Yankees for the first time since July 16-18, 2019, at Yankee Stadium.
On one hand, the tough offensive performance might provide more cause for concern about a Rays lineup that leads the Majors with 397 strikeouts. In the past five games, they’ve hit just .151. They’ve been held to four or fewer hits in each of their past three games, one game shy of tying the franchise record set from Aug. 11-14, 2017. And they’re hitting just .201 in 19 home games this season, dragging down their overall slash line for the season to .217/.298/.361.
Or perhaps this was just a dominant performance by one of the game’s best pitchers.
“It's just one of those days where Cole had everything going,” Arozarena said through an interpreter. “He pitched a great game. It was pretty obvious for everyone to see.”
Cole carried a 1.61 ERA and an absurd 66-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio into his eighth start of the season, and he was as advertised against the Rays. He allowed only four hits and didn’t walk a batter, continuing a month-long walk-free stretch, and he seemed to get stronger as the night wore on. Although Cole is 3-0 in four postseason starts against Tampa Bay, he had never beaten the Rays in the regular season until Wednesday.
The Rays nearly matched Cole zero for zero by committee, though. Right-hander Collin McHugh put together another strong performance as Tampa Bay’s opener, striking out two while facing the minimum six batters in two innings. Lefty Ryan Yarbrough’s excellent work pitching after an opener continued, as he struck out four over 3 1/3 innings.
Right-hander Ryan Thompson finished the sixth inning by striking out DJ LeMahieu and Giancarlo Stanton, then returned for another inning, which he’s admitted has been an issue in past outings. Thompson gave up a single to Aaron Judge and an opposite-field double to Gio Urshela to begin the seventh, but he got the ground ball he wanted to retire Luke Voit and keep the runners at second and third.
“Definitely, there could be some pitch-selection changes next time I face those guys,” Thompson said. “But overall, I think I went out there and did what I do, and I got beat today.”
In came left-hander Jeffrey Springs, trying to keep the game scoreless. But Aaron Hicks lofted a fly ball to center field, driving in Judge and finally putting a run on the board. Springs escaped the inning with no further damage, but Cole pressed on by pitching a clean seventh inning and striking out the side on 12 pitches in the eighth.
“Everybody pitched well,” Thompson said. “That's the game. We ended up on the losing side this time. Next time, it'll be different.”
The Rays’ two best chances came in the first and sixth innings. In the first, Austin Meadows doubled on a high fly ball that bounced off the Trop’s B-ring catwalk, then advanced to third on a grounder by Manuel Margot. But Cole dialed in and struck out Brandon Lowe on a high, 97.6 mph fastball to end the inning.
The sixth inning played out in similar fashion. Arozarena smashed a one-out double high off the wall in left field, maybe a foot away from putting the Rays ahead. In the dugout, Thompson hoped it’d clear the fence, but Cash said he didn’t think it looked like “one of Randy's no-doubt homers.”
Arozarena said he knew he didn’t get all of it, and he ran out of the box to get himself into scoring position. He moved to third on Meadows’ grounder to the right side. But Cole again dug deep and blew a high, 99 mph fastball past Margot for his eighth strikeout, and the Rays’ next nine hitters went down in order against Cole and Aroldis Chapman.
“You're facing a guy that's got it going, I mean, the margin of error is like nil. And I can't say that we did really anything wrong,” Cash said. “We just couldn't get anything going offensively. Our pitchers were just outstanding at giving us every opportunity. It was just a pretty well-played game on both teams, and they got us.”