ST. PETERSBURG -- DJ LeMahieu waved his arms twice as he positioned for the final play of Wednesday’s game, supremely confident in his ability to complete a snag he has been making since his earliest days on a ballfield. He stared into Tropicana Field’s oatmeal-tinted roof and … suddenly didn’t seem quite so sure.
LeMahieu’s knees buckled and he sprawled to his right, stabbing his gloved left hand across his body and hoping for a miracle. The ball snagged leather instead of bouncing off the infield dirt, and the normally stoic first baseman flashed a relieved smile, having sealed the Yankees’ 3-1, 10-inning victory over the Rays.
“When balls go that high here, you don’t see them for a period of time,” LeMahieu said. “You’re just kind of hoping you’re in the right spot. Someone said: ‘Yeah, never a doubt.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, there definitely was some doubt there.’ I’m glad I could catch it.”
LeMahieu’s fortunate grab retired Francisco Mejía as closer Aroldis Chapman worked around a walk and wild pitch to strand two runners in scoring position, notching his 20th save.
“In the second or third inning, there was a fan sitting a couple of rows back yelling, ‘We just got Gallo!’” Green said. “Of course we asked who we gave up and he said he didn’t know at that time. I think he stood up and was screaming for a solid 10 minutes about it.”
Gallo’s left-handed stroke promises to be a difference-maker for a Yankees club that has unexpectedly struggled to score runs, but on this night, their most productive offensive player delivered.
Aaron Judge’s RBI single tipped the glove of shortstop Wander Franco and put the Yanks ahead in the 10th, followed by a run-scoring wild pitch that added cushion. There was pregame intrigue concerning Judge, who was scratched approximately 30 minutes before first pitch.
No reason was immediately given for the lineup change, and Boone revealed that Judge’s arrival at Tropicana Field was delayed until 6 p.m. ET due to ongoing medical testing. Wednesday marked Judge’s second game in uniform since returning from the COVID-19 injured list, entering as a fifth-inning pinch-hitter.
“It’s been frustrating,” Judge said. “I’m not really going to get into it too much. We’ve already kind of said what needs to be said with this. Better late than never. I was excited I was able to get here when I did, come into the game and help the team in the 10th.”
Start me up
Nestor Cortes extended a string of effective starting-pitching performances by the Yankees’ staff, navigating five innings of one-run ball. Yanks starters have allowed three runs or fewer in 18 consecutive games, matching a run of success from Aug. 22-Sept. 9, 1981.
“I knew how bad we needed this win and this series,” said Cortes, who grew up in Miami and had about 15 friends and family members on hand. “Me contributing to this win, it’s huge. It was really special for me.”
Cortes held the Rays to Brandon Lowe’s fourth-inning RBI double, tossing 79 pitches in his first start and second appearance since returning from the COVID-19 injured list.
“We couldn’t ask for more than what he’s provided for us,” Boone said. “He’s been terrific. If our starters are giving us a chance night in and night out, that’s ultimately what’s going to give us a chance to fuel a really good finish to the season.”
As the Gallo rumors swirled, spilling from the stands to the bullpen and then the dugout, the Yankees managed an unearned run over five innings against right-hander Michael Wacha.
Gio Urshela reached on an error that opened the fifth inning, advanced on a Greg Allen double and scored the tying run on a LeMahieu sacrifice fly.
“It was a grind all game,” Boone said. “I thought Wacha was really good, and Nestor for us. Both starters were really sharp for five innings, and the bullpens were able to keep both teams at bay.”
It was the kind of deadlocked ballgame, one couldn’t help but think, that might be impacted by a slugger of Gallo’s pedigree – a theory the Yankees should be able to put to the test soon.
“He’s a guy that can hit it out of any ballpark,” Judge said. “I don’t think he gets enough credit for the type of defense he plays all around. If it comes true that we get him, I think it’s going to be something special for our team.”