ST. PETERSBURG -- After retiring Aaron Judge to end the eighth inning Thursday afternoon, Ryan Yarbrough walked into the visitors dugout at Yankee Stadium and immediately received the confirmation he was looking for from manager Kevin Cash: “Hey, keep going.”
Speaking to pitching coach Kyle Snyder while the Rays hit in the top of the ninth inning, Yarbrough heard more of the same: “Hey, this is yours. I’m giving you every opportunity to finish this thing.”
“And I took it and ran with it,” Yarbrough said Wednesday afternoon at Tropicana Field.
Before starting the Rays’ series opener against the Orioles on Friday afternoon, Yarbrough reflected on his complete game victory in Tampa Bay’s 9-2 win over New York last week. His 113-pitch outing was the Rays’ first complete game since Matt Andriese on May 14, 2016, snapping a stretch of 731 games in between -- the longest such drought in Major League history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“Obviously, being able to celebrate with the team afterward -- it's one of those things where, as a pitcher, in your mind you're wanting to go nine every time,” Yarbrough said. “So when you're done, you're just like, 'OK, saved the bullpen.' That was my main concern, and then everyone [is] so excited for you. It's kind of cool to see everyone really relish in that with me. So, pretty excited.”
Consider how long it had been since the Rays could celebrate that sort of accomplishment. Between Andriese’s complete game and Yarbrough’s outing, Tampa Bay used 40 different starting pitchers and had 11 complete games thrown by its opponents.
During those five years, Cleveland put together 23 complete games, 137 different pitchers had at least one and 59 pitchers recorded two or more. Meanwhile, the Rays only had their starters work into the ninth inning twice during that stretch, and Yarbrough was the last to do it when he went 8 2/3 innings on Aug. 11, 2019, in Seattle.
The Rays had action in their bullpen a few times at Yankee Stadium, with Andrew Kittredge getting warm on multiple occasions. Right-hander Ryan Thompson said he and his fellow relievers made Kittredge stay on the mound even when they knew he wasn’t going to pitch, because they thought it was good luck for Yarbrough.
“There was one moment where he was standing on the other rubber [in the bullpen], and we gave up a hit or something. We're like, 'Get over to the other rubber!'” Thompson said, smiling. “But yeah, it was huge.”
For his part, Yarbrough said he might have glanced into the bullpen in the ninth, but his focus -- emboldened by what he heard from Cash and Snyder -- was on finishing what he started.
“At that point I'm like, 'I don't care what's going to happen,’” Yarbrough said. “I was going to finish that game.”
In the days after the start, Yarbrough said he heard from a lot of family and friends, including high school and college coaches who have continued to follow his career. He heard from some former teammates, too, including Andriese.
“He reached out and said congratulations,” Yarbrough said. “He said it was about time, though, so it was pretty cool.”
Yarbrough will take the mound Friday after a full week of rest between outings, as the Rays will have had two off-days (Monday and Thursday) and a bullpen game Sunday in Texas) between his complete game and his next appearance against the Orioles. The left-hander said he prioritized rest and recovery following his nine-inning outing, and that he felt “really fresh” after throwing a bullpen session on Wednesday afternoon.
With that in mind, Yarbrough shouldn’t be limited at all when he takes the mound Friday night.
“I'll go off what Kyle says and what Yarbs says. It timed up again really well for him to do that and get … [a] full week, seven days,” Cash said. “I would imagine he'll be fine.”