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Tanaka's duel among 4 keys to Yanks' series win

Veteran righty outlasts Snell with 7 innings of efficient work
@Sportsgal25
May 12, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG -- The roster the Yankees brought to Florida this weekend was decidedly not the one they had envisioned at this point in the season. That's no secret, it hasn't been for quite some time. The surprise is that not only has the cobbled-together lineup of next-ups held the

ST. PETERSBURG -- The roster the Yankees brought to Florida this weekend was decidedly not the one they had envisioned at this point in the season. That's no secret, it hasn't been for quite some time.

The surprise is that not only has the cobbled-together lineup of next-ups held the fort while the Aaron Judges and the Giancarlo Stantons of the world rehab various maladies, they've actually put New York in position to challenge for the lead in what's widely regarded as the toughest division in baseball.

"More guys just continue to step up," manager Aaron Boone said. "I'm really proud of that effort. We have to grind and scratch for everything."

The Yankees entered the three-game series Friday against the American League East-leading Rays in second place by 1 1/2 games and confident something could be done about that. When the dust settled Sunday after a 7-1 victory, New York had taken two of three to win its third consecutive series and moved to within a half-game of Tampa Bay.

Box score

With that in mind, here are four signs from Sunday that suggest the Yankees' early success is more about talent than luck:

They don't need the headlines

The big to-do surrounding the series finale was how the Yankees would handle AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell, or the other way around. The other guy on the mound -- Masahiro Tanaka -- was paid little attention ... until his outing simply made too much noise to ignore.

While Snell certainly had the flair, Tanaka had the staying power. The latter outlasted his Rays counterpart with an array of smart, economical pitches.

"I think looking back a couple of games, I think today was one of the best [starts] I threw," Tanaka said through an interpreter.

With all eyes on Snell, Tanaka hummed steadily along, allowing a single in the first and second innings before retiring 12 consecutive hitters. New York's righty needed just 73 pitches to get through his seven innings against the division leaders and made it look easy: Tampa Bay's lone run came on a home run from Austin Meadows in the sixth inning.

"[Tanaka] was good, man. He was hitting his spots and living on the corners," Meadows said. "That slider in the corner, the fastball, everything was working for him today, and he was definitely really good."

In the bottom of the fifth frame Tanaka dialed it in, using just seven pitches. He retired the side on four pitches in the seventh. He struck out seven, allowed five hits and didn't walk a batter.

They slayed a dragon

Sure, Snell racked up a host of early strikeouts -- 10 in four innings and 12 in his 5 2/3 on the day -- as the Yankees worked to devise a battle plan. But New York forced Snell to throw 30 pitches in the fourth inning and then cracked his armor in the fifth, running his pitch count into the 80s while using consecutive two-out doubles followed by a single to plate a pair of runs.

They supplied their own power

A partial power outage at Tropicana Field interrupted the top of the ninth inning Sunday. The stadium lights and scoreboards winked out; the FOX Sports Sun TV broadcast of the game was also interrupted. Fans used flashlights on their phones during the delay in an attempt to brighten the stadium.

When power was restored 43 minutes later, the Yankees brought with it a surge of their own by way of a four-run ninth.

Thairo Estrada sent the second post-outage pitch of the game into the stands for his second homer of the year, Gio Urshela continued his tear with a two-run double and Brett Gardner's sacrifice fly made it 7-1 Yankees and sucked the wind from Tampa Bay's sails.

... and they were also lights-out

Zack Britton relieved Tanaka in the eighth with big shoes to fill and no fear about being able to do so. When consecutive one-out singles and a wild pitch placed the potential tying run in scoring position, though, how Britton responded was crucial.

Not to worry: The left-hander handcuffed Ji-Man Choi and fanned Yandy Diaz -- the Rays' No. 3 and No. 4 hitters, respectively -- to escape the threat and set the stage for the final-inning fireworks.

"I've closed a lot of games out in situations like that," Britton said. "It's all about mindset, and I knew I'd get out of it if I just continued to make good pitches."

Chad Green -- who was recalled from Triple-A just prior to Sunday's finale -- stepped in to strike out the side in order in the ninth.

"That was awesome. That's Chad Green right there," Boone said. "For him to get back out there and throw the ball that way, that was exciting."

Dawn Klemish is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Tampa. Follow her on Twitter @Sportsgal25.