NEW YORK — The Yankees came prepared. This stretch of the season is expected to be a test for the Bombers, a chance to see how they measure up against the teams they are projected to be battling at the end of the year for playoff position, and in the playoffs. With six scoreless, bounce-back innings from Gerrit Cole, the Yankees showed they are ready for the test with a 2-0 win over the Rays at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees (45-16) have won five straight and 12 of their last 13 games. They increased their lead in the American League East to nine games over the Blue Jays and 10 over the Rays (35-26). The Yankees have dominated early. They lead the majors in home runs with 98 (though improved to 9-9 in games in which they do not hit a home run Tuesday night) and have the big-league home run leader in Aaron Judge with 24. Their pitchers have dominated, allowing just 180 runs, the fewest by any team’s staff in the majors.
The Yankees have the best record in baseball, but through the first 60 games only played 22 games against teams with a winning record.
That obviously stopped Tuesday night with their American League East rival Rays in town. It began a stretch of 13 straight games against teams with winning records. After the Rays, the Blue Jays and Astros follow.
”I think it’s gonna be tough. I mean, we’re entering a tough stretch of games right now,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “We know how good Tampa is. We know how good Toronto is and how good they’re playing really over the last month.
”So, we got to continue to play well and know certainly through this stretch of games, especially within our divisions against two teams that we know are going to be there all the way,” Boone continued. We know we’ve got to play our best if we’re gonna have a chance to beat them on a nightly basis.”
Cole held the Rays scoreless, scattering five hits over six innings. He walked one and struck out seven. He threw 92 pitches and got 11 swings-and-misses, six on his fastball and four on his slider.
It was a bounce-back start from his last, a clunker against the Twins, but it wasn’t an easy night.
Cole was bailed out by his defense in the sixth inning. After Cole made a terrible throw to second, a video replay overturned the error, showing Gleyber Torres kept the bottom of one cleat on second base for the first out. After his Rays nemesis Ji-Man Choi singled on a ball up the middle, Cole used a slider away to get the double-play ground ball from Randy Arozarena to end the inning.
Cole was fired up after the play, pumping his fist twice and screaming to his teammates as he ran off the field.
In Tampa, when a call went against him, Cole walked the next batter on four pitches and the Rays scored on him as they went on to beat the Yankees 3-1. This time, after his own throwing error, Cole flailed his arms up and swore. Boone went out to the mound to try and settle his ace down.
Cole had a better beginning than his last start — when he gave up back-to-back-to-back home runs to the Twins in the first. After a one-out single to Harold Ramirez, Cole retired 11 straight Rays. He gave up a lead-off walk to Arozarena in the fifth and then walked Kevin Kiermaier on four straight pitches.
The Yankees took advantage of the Rays’ sloppy play in the fourth to score their runs. Corey Kluber walked Stanton with one out and Torres’ high pop clanged off of Manuel Margot’s glove to put two on. After Matt Carpenter struck out, Isaiah Kiner-Falefa lined a bloop single to left-center field, scoring Stanton. Torres scored when Arozarena’s throw from left field sailed over catcher Francisco Mejia’s head.