The Big Inning

Bronx, N.Y., May 19, 2019; Yankees 13, Tampa 5 — The Yankees climbed back into first place Sunday afternoon with a 13-7 thrashing of Tampa Bay, completing their second 2-games-to-1 series win over the Rays on back-to-back weekends. On a gorgeous day in the Bronx, the teams battled back and forth valiantly to a 5-5 tie through five innings, when the game underwent a dramatic change.

Early prognostications weren’t promising, as the continually undermanned 2019 Yankees were forced to go with a bullpen start against righthander Charlie Morton, one of Tampa’s best starters. And Morton’s struggles became a big part of the story. Not only did he give up two 2-run home runs to allow the home team to tie it up, it took him 88 pitches to get through four frames. So it quickly became a bullpen game on both sides, and Tampa’s imploded dramatically in the sixth inning.

The unsung hero of this one was young Yankee southpaw Nestor Cortes, Jr., though he initially looked to be the goat, via the three runs he surrendered in the third, his first full inning. This followed another disappointing outing from starter [this day] Chad Green, who survived a scoreless first because Gary Sanchez threw Austin Meadows out stealing before Tommy Pham’s double to left. But two outs into the second Green gave up home runs to Kevin Kiermaier and Willy Adames on back-to-back pitches, eclipsing an early 1-0 Yankee lead. One batter later, Cortes came on to end the damage with a strike out.

But Nestor wasn’t good in the third, allowing a walk, double, and booming Brandon Lowe home run, again erasing a Yankee lead, one that they had put them up 3-2 on Brett Gardner’s two-run home run. Down 5-3, the rookie recovered, retiring the next nine, five of them on strike outs. The last of these was a called strike out of Lowe, which ushered in the sixth inning, a marathon search for six outs that would take the two bullpens forever to complete. The Yanks had tied it in the fourth on Aaron Hicks’s first home run of the year, but in a tight, though high-scoring game, the feeling in the park was becoming that the next team to score had a great chance to win. With one down now, Cortes surrendered a walk and single around a fly to center, and Aaron Boone brought in Adam Ottavino to get the last out.

Ottavino’s slider can be nearly impossible to hit, but also to control. He got ahead of Daniel Robertson but walked him, loading the bases. It was a nervous feeling in a tied game, a feeling Rays fans would soon come to experience, in spades. Adam also got ahead of Meadows, but missed on a few to go to 3-2. The Rays DH then fouled one off, but the crowd uttered a group combo sigh-of-relief/burst-of-elation when he went down swinging on the next pitch. On to the bottom half.

It wasn’t pretty, not played the way the game was designed to work out. Gritty Gardner got it going, busting down the line as his slow hopper glanced off reliever Diego Castillo’s glove, and then couldn’t be handled cleanly by second baseman Robertson. Clint Frazier’s seven-pitch walk after Brett stole second was followed by DJ LeMahieu’s worst at bat of the year, a harmless foul pop on a sac bunt attempt on the next pitch. Not to worry though, as walks to Hicks and Luke Voit plated what could have been THE run (only it wasn’t), 6-5 Yankees. An almost wild pitch actually got the second out, as Frazier was out at the plate, but Sanchez then got the intentional walk, this against righty Ryne Stanek. An ensuing walk to Kendrys Morales scored one more; then first baseman and former Yank Ji-Man Choi couldn’t hold the bag accepting a toss on Gleyber Torres’s slow roller to third for a single and another tally. Eight had come to the plate, three had scored, and the only two hits barely went 100 feet. That ended when Thairo Estrada, batting for a banged up Gio Urshela, doubled down the left field line for three and Gardner doubled the other way for one more, 12-5 Yankees.

Given that sudden lead, Boone handed the ball to Chance Adams, who acquitted himself well in collecting nine outs to the next 12 batters to close it out. LeMahieu followed his horrible bunt by homering leading off the home seventh to forge the final score, 13-5. Fifty-eight years ago, major league baseball toyed with the idea of adding an asterisk to Roger Maris’s record season total of 61 home runs because he accomplished the feat in 162 games, eight more than the 154 Babe Ruth had played to set the record of 60 in 1927. It’s chronicled in the movie 61*, which came out in 2001. The idea of adding the mark was preposterous then, and even more so now that Rajah’s feat still stands as the record all these years later, assuming the few steroid-driven aberrations are recognized as the frauds and pale imposters they are.

Better to use that mark for something truly noteworthy, but in a much less elevated sense. Let’s put an asterisk on the number of minutes it took to complete the sixth inning in the Bronx this afternoon.