O captain! My captain! When the Yankees needed him most, No. 99 answered the call.
Aaron Judge’s two-homer day ignited an improbable 9-8 comeback win against the MLB-best Tampa Bay Rays with their horse on the hill.
With the Bombers’ trailing 6-2 in the bottom of the fifth, Judge slapped an opposite-field bomb to right field off Rays’ ace Shane McClanahan, one inning later the 31-year-old stepped up and launched a go-ahead bomb to left field giving his club a 7-6 lead.
Judge’s second homer came in the midst of a five-run inning for the Yanks — capped off by an Oswald Cabrera two-RBI single which proved to be the difference in the game — who fought back from down 6-0 entering the bottom of the fifth with one of the best pitchers in baseball on the bump.
McClanahan entered the afternoon 7-0 with a 1.76 ERA and left with a 2.34 ERA after he was tagged for four earned runs by the Bombers in four innings of work. The Yanks appeared to be in an insurmountable hole due to Nestor Cortes’ outing which was anything but nasty.
The 28-year-old was rocked around the yard surrendering six runs on seven hits in 4.1 innings of work. Cortes has not nearly been the version of himself displayed last season as his ERA ballooned to 5.53, over three runs higher than the 2.44 in his 2022 All-Star campaign.
Even the balls that found the mitts of the Yanks’ defense were scorched. Tampa registered an average 97.2 mph exit velocity against the Southpaw.
The five-run fifth that gave the Bombers the lead all came with two outs, which was jumpstarted by an Anthony Volpe “home run.” Volpe led off the frame with a bunt single, stole second, stole third and scored on a wild pitch to cut the deficit to 6-5.
Volpe is the first player in Yankees’ history to successfully steal his first 13 stolen base attempts. The rookie — who was recently bumped from leadoff to seventh in the order — is slashing .210/.298/.364 on the season.
Of course, the 30-win Rays were not going to make it easy for the Yanks. Ron Marinaccio came on in the 7th in place of Jimmy Cordero who took over for Cortes and immediately put two runners on in the form of Francisco Mejia and Diaz. Marinaccio induced a Wander Franco groundout before being pulled for Clay Holmes.
Holmes surrendered a two-RBI single to Randy Arozarena to cut the deficit to 9-8. The right-hander came back out for the eighth and stranded Luke Raley at second base after striking out Diaz in a nine-pitch at-bat before handing the ball off to Wandy Peralta for the close.
Peralta worked a quick ninth to give the Yanks the win. The club now sits seven games back of the first-place Rays.
Clarke Schmidt (5.35) will attempt to win the four-game set for the Bombers on Sunday afternoon. Right-hander Zach Eflin (2.91 ERA) will take the ball for Tampa on Mother’s Day as they look to salvage a split.
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