Tuesday night’s Gerrit Cole vs. Corey Kluber matchup may have been the main event a few years ago, but Wednesday night was the marquee pitching matchup everyone in baseball was waiting for. Nestor Cortes and the Bombers bullpen held off the Rays bats to beat their young lefty Shane McClanahan in the Yankees 4-3 win over Tampa Bay at the Stadium.
The Yankees (46-16) have won six straight games, 13th straight at the Stadium 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 game had a most unusual 16-minute delay as the umpires conferred to see if Aaron Boone was allowed to visit the mound to make a pitching change in the top of the eighth inning. With runners on first and second, after Miguel Castro plunked Randy Arozarena, Boone wanted to stall to get Lucas Luetge time to warm up to face lefty-pinch hitter Ji-Man Choi.
Pitching coach Matt Blake had visited the mound after Castro had hit Arozarena and Kyle Higashioka went out as Choi was heading to the plate to stall. Boone then tried to come out to change pitchers.
The umpires gathered on the field and seemed to call into the video replay crew in Chelsea.
The umpires finally let Boone make the change, but Luetge stood on the mound for about five minutes as Rays manager Kevin Cash went out and got an explanation. Choi saw two pitches before lining an RBI-single just over the glove of second baseman DJ LeMahieu. Rene Pinto blooped a single to shallow center field over the head of Isiah Kiner-Falefa for another run, cutting the Yankees lead to 4-3.
That spoiled what had been a fast-moving game that featured two of the best young arms in the game this season.
This was the first matchup in Rays history where both starters came into the game with sub-2.00 ERAs. Unfortunately for McClanahan he didn’t get the same run support Cortes did.
Cortes allowed one run on three hits. He walked three and struck out four over 5.1 innings. Cortes threw 91 pitches and got 13 swing-and-misses. He got nine whiffs on his fastball.
McClanahan went six and allowed one earned run, three were unearned, on three hits and two walks. He struck out seven.
The Yankees lefty was cruising along until the sixth. He gave up a lead-off ground rule double to Yandy Diaz and then let him advance to third when he could not catch the ball that Higashioka threw back to him. The ball nipped off his glove, hit him in the head and rolled back toward the outfield. Diaz took third on the fielding error and scored on Manuel Margot’s double to left field.
After the ball hit Cortes in the head, he gave up that double and then walked Arozarena on four pitches, which summoned Boone from the dugout.
Cortes had the benefit of being backed by the Bombers’ offense, which managed to score even on the tough Rays’ lefty.
“He’s really tough, got great stuff and I mean, a really, really great left arm,” Boone said of McClanahan. “Obviously, you might see up to 100 miles an hour on the fastball but the secondary stuff is all good. He’s a strike thrower. You have to take advantage of the few mistakes that he makes.”
“So you know, you have your work cut out for you when McClanahan is on the hill and it’s a combination of just a maturing pitcher with great stuff that has a really good attack plan now,” Boone said. “I felt like we did a pretty good job against them last time. You have to take advantage of some mistakes that you get which don’t come often.”
The Yankees got two mistakes from McClanahan to hit Wednesday night.
Aaron Judge hit his major-league leading 25th home run in the first inning, his 19th solo homer of the season. Higashioka, who went homer-less in his first 100 at-bats this season, has now hit three homers in his last two games. Higashioka’s homer was a three-run shot in the fifth inning.