Kyle Higashioka, Yankees hold on to beat the Rays after 16-minute rules debate in 8th

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Kyle Higashioka had a big night. The Yankees catcher helped guide Nestor Cortes and the Yankees bullpen through a dangerous Rays lineup. Higashioka also hit a three-run homer in the Yankees’ 4-3 win over Tampa Bay at the Stadium Wednesday night.

But Higashioka wasn’t exactly happy about how that game went down. The catcher was frustrated by a 16-minute delay as the umpires tried to confirm the mound visit rule with a pinch hitter during the eighth inning.

“That was brutal. I mean, first of all, I don’t feel like that can happen,” Higashioka said of the long delay that largely had the Stadium in the dark as to what was being questioned. “We just can’t take 20 or 30 minutes or whatever, to figure out what’s going on. There’s gotta be somebody that knows what to do.”

“I mean, I definitely did not feel good on the field after that long delay,” Higashioka said. “So I’m just glad we got through it.”

The Yankees (46-16) have won six straight games, 13 straight in the Bronx and clinched their 16th series win and go for their eighth series sweep on Thursday night. They have the best record in baseball and continued to cushion their lead in the American League East to 11 games over the Rays (35-27).

The Bombers got homers from Higashioka, his third in the last two games after going his first 100 plate appearances this season without one. Aaron Judge hit his major league-leading 25th of the season. Cortes allowed one run on three hits and three walks over 5.1 innings pitched. Clay Holmes extended his scoreless innings streak to 30 with his 11th save of the season.

And the Yankees survived a bumpy eighth inning, when the game came to a halt as the umpires conferred on the field and with the video replay room in Chelsea to confirm the rules about mound visits with a pinch hitter.

It began after Miguel Castro hit Randy Arozarena with two out and Manuel Margot on second base. Yankees pitching coach Matt Blake went out to settle Castro down, but as he was walking back to the dugout, the Rays’ lefty slugger Ji-Man Choi came out to pinch-hit for Isaac Paredes. The Bombers quickly called to the bullpen and got up lefty Lucas Luetge and told Higashioka and Castro to slow down a bit.

“I only need five pitches to get ready,” Luetge said.

Boone came out of the dugout to go to the mound and the umpires stopped him, thinking it was a second mound visit. The four umpires conferred together on the field, ultimately determining that Boone was allowed to make the mound visit to remove Castro.

“The first mound visit was assigned to the Paredes [at bat],” crew chief Phil Cuzzi said, “the second mound visit was assigned to the pinch hitter.

“That is what the question was.”

The Rays scored two after the delay, but Luetge got Brett Phillips to fly out to end the innings.

And Holmes took it from there.

“It’s pretty crazy. I mean, the movement on it isn’t like anybody else’s sinker in the game that I can see,” Higashioka said. “So it’s just kind of a unicorn pitch. I don’t know if anybody else has anything like it. I have a hard enough time. I can’t imagine what it’s like to try to hit it.”

Instead, Higashioka had to face Shane McClanahan. The Rays’ tough, young lefty allowed four runs, one earned, on three hits and two walks. He gave up the home runs to Judge and Higashioka.

Though he has struggled to start the season, Boone isn’t surprised to see the catcher come through with a big hit.

“When he’s going well he’s a power threat, especially against left-handed pitching,” Boone said. “It’s good to see him, get a couple on the board here these last couple of days and that’s a huge one there off of obviously a really good one in McClanahan, who I thought was really good tonight. We didn’t have much against him.”