NEW YORK (AP) Brett Gardner hit a solo home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the New York Yankees a 3-2 victory over Tampa Bay on Saturday, spoiling the impressive major league debut of Rays top pitching prospect Blake Snell.
Gardner singled home the tying run in the seventh and then connected on a 3-1 pitch from Erasmo Ramirez (4-1) two innings later, pointing toward the Yankees’ dugout as he trotted to first base and the ball soared into the second deck in right field.
Andrew Miller (1-0) worked a scoreless inning for the win, getting a double-play grounder to end the ninth.
Masahiro Tanaka gave New York seven quality innings opposite Snell, perhaps baseball’s premier pitching prospect. The slim left-hander permitted one run and two hits in five innings, striking out six and walking one.
Snell was selected the minor league player of the year last season by Baseball America and USA Today after going 15-4 with a 1.41 ERA at three levels. He struck out 163 in 134 innings and could be the next ace in line for a Tampa Bay team with a strong track record of developing All-Star starters, from Scott Kazmir and James Shields to David Price and Chris Archer.
The 23-year-old Snell got called up from Triple-A Durham to make a spot start in place of Ramirez, who won in relief Thursday, and was expected to be sent back down regardless of the outcome.
With a brief opportunity to impress, Snell did just that with his 95 mph fastball and big-breaking curve.
He looked nervous early on, taking deep breaths during his warmups and throughout a 24-pitch first inning. New York scored on a wild pitch that catcher Hank Conger probably could have blocked, but Snell escaped when left fielder Desmond Jennings made a leaping catch at the left-field fence of a long drive by Alex Rodriguez – one of Snell’s favorite players while growing up in the Seattle area.
“He’s a great kid. Can’t clean his room, but can throw a baseball like nobody’s business,” said Snell’s mother, Jane, who sat with about 15-20 family members and friends in the second deck on the third base side. “He grew up rooting for anyone except the Yankees and his opening debut is against the Yankees, so it’s pretty funny.”
Trailing 2-1 in the seventh, the Yankees drew two walks against Tampa Bay’s bullpen and loaded the bases with two outs when Jacoby Ellsbury reached on catcher’s interference for the third time this season.
Gardner hit a line drive right back at Xavier Cedeno that deflected off the reliever’s glove and rolled away for a tying infield single.
Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry from national champion Alabama, who grew up a Yankees fan in Florida, met several players before the game and received a tour of the clubhouse from manager Joe Girardi.
Yankees: OF Aaron Hicks was sent for an MRI on his sore left shoulder, keeping him out of the lineup. Hicks left Friday night’s game after diving for Brandon Guyer‘s bloop single. … Yankees reliever Branden Pinder has a partial ligament tear in his right elbow and probably will decide in the next couple of days whether to have Tommy John surgery, Girardi said. The other option is to try a rehabilitation program that hopefully would help him pitch with the partial tear.
Rays: LHP Drew Smyly (0-2, 2.91 ERA) starts the series finale Sunday, the fourth of five straight left-handers lined up to face the Yankees by Oakland, Tampa Bay and Texas. Smyly, who has received three runs of support in three starts this year, yielded one hit and struck out 11 in eight shutout innings Tuesday at Boston. He retired his final 17 batters and reached double digits in strikeouts for the second consecutive start. Smyly fanned 10 in six innings at Yankee Stadium last April 29.
Yankees: RHP Michael Pineda (1-1, 5.29) makes his fourth start of the season.