Stanton, Yankees power way to 9-3 win against Rays in opener

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN DIEGO — Giancarlo Stanton and the Bronx Bombers made themselves right at home in Petco Park on a warm October evening in Southern California.

Stanton hit a grand slam in the ninth inning for New York’s fourth home run of the game, and the Yankees beat the Tampa Bay Rays 9-3 on Monday in the opener of their AL Division Series at Petco Park.

Stanton homered to straightaway center field on a 2-2 pitch from John Curtiss. The slugger took several steps with his bat still in his hands as he watched the ball sail through the pleasant San Diego evening air before beginning his trot.

A few fans chanted “Let’s Go Yankees!” from a balcony on an office building just beyond right field of the mostly empty ballpark.

“That SoCal air, man. That SoCal weather. That’s what it is,” said Stanton, who is from Los Angeles and won the Home Run Derby at Petco Park in 2016. He spent his first eight seasons with the Marlins and has nine homers in 20 games at Petco Park.

Kyle Higashioka, another SoCal native, and Aaron Judge hit the tying and go-ahead home runs off Blake Snell in the fifth to back winner Gerrit Cole. Clint Frazier hit an impressive shot into the second deck in left in the third.

The Bronx Bombers became the first team in American League history to hit a grand slam in back-to-back playoff games. Gio Urshela connected in Game 2 of the first-round sweep against Cleveland. Two NL teams have done it, the 1977 Dodgers and 2011 Diamondbacks.

Judge said he’s comfortable in San Diego, and his parents were at the game.

“This is the first game my parents were able to come to as well. That’s huge. My dad for sure doesn’t miss more than a month at a time, and we’re in October now,” he said.

Game 2 in the best-of-five series is Tuesday night, with 21-year-old rookie Deivi Garcia set to become the youngest Yankees pitcher to make a postseason start. Tyler Glasnow goes for the Rays.

Beginning with this round, all postseason series were moved to neutral sites because of the coronavirus.

The Yankees set a franchise record by hitting at least three home runs in three consecutive postseason games. They are the second team to do it in baseball history after the Rays did it in four straight in 2008.

Stanton has played in only 41 games over the past two seasons because of injuries.

“I feel great for him because I know this is what I envisioned for him last year,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “He’s such a dangerous hitter in the middle of our lineup. When he’s controlling the strike zone, he’s as deadly as anyone.”

New York has 11 homers in three playoff games this year. They are the most for any team in the first three games of a postseason.

Teams that have outhomered the opposition are 13-0 in these playoffs.

Tampa Bay dominated the contentious regular-season series, going 8-2 against the rival Yankees and winning the AL East by seven games over second-place New York.

With the calendar flipped to October, it was a different story in their first postseason meeting.

“They can hit, there’s no secret in that,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “There’s nothing that was unexpected with them. They’ve just got some guys back that are healthier. There were a handful of players who didn’t have consistent reps against us or throughout the 60-game season due to injuries. They looked healthy tonight.”

The ball was flying for the Rays as well against Cole in downtown San Diego. Randy Arozarena homered in the first and Ji-Man Choi muscled an opposite-field, two-run shot in the fourth into the Rays bullpen in left-center to give Tampa Bay a 3-2 lead.

Cole went six innings, allowing three runs and six hits while striking out eight and walking two. The Yankees’ ace was pitching about 100 miles south of where he grew up in Newport Beach before playing at UCLA. Cole beat Tampa Bay twice in last year’s ALDS with Houston.

Snell, the 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner, was the loser. He pitched five innings and allowed four runs on six hits while striking out four and walking two.

New York’s Aaron Hicks, who’s from San Pedro in the Los Angeles area, hit a sacrifice fly in the first and an RBI single in the ninth.

Arozarena tied it in the bottom of the first before Frazier gave the Yankees the lead in the second. Choi’s shot in the fourth put Tampa Bay ahead 3-2.

Higashioka, who’s from Huntington Beach in Orange County, hit a line shot into the seats in left leading off the fifth. Judge, who’s from Northern California, lined his shot into the left-field seats as well.

It was Judge’s 10th career postseason homer.

DEBUT

Tampa Bay reliever Shane McClanahan became the first pitcher in baseball history to make his big league debut in a postseason game.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Rays: Added All-Star OF Austin Meadows to the roster, but he wasn’t in the starting lineup. He had been out since Sept. 18 with a left oblique strain. Meadows struck out as a pinch-hitter in the seventh.

PETCO PARK MEMORIES

Coincidentally, Yankees third base coach Phil Nevin was a slugger for the Padres when Petco Park opened in 2004 with vast outfield dimensions. He and Ryan Klesko groused about how they’d crush a ball that would be a homer in other parks, only to watch it go for a long out. Nevin once hit a double that he thought should have been a homer. After reaching second, he gestured angrily toward general manager Kevin Towers’ box. The two later had words in the clubhouse.

The fences were moved in prior to the 2013 season.

UP NEXT

Yankees: Masahiro Tanaka was pushed back to Game 3 in favor of the 5-foot-9 Garcia (3-2, 4.98 ERA).

Rays: The 6-foot-8 Glasnow (5-1, 4.08) goes for his second playoff victory after beating the Blue Jays 8-2 to complete a two-game sweep in the first round. He has won six straight decisions and four consecutive starts dating back to the regular season.

Swanson, Olson go deep vs Scherzer, Braves take NL East lead

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ATLANTA — Dansby Swanson and Matt Olson homered off Max Scherzer, lifting the Atlanta Braves to a crucial 4-2 victory Saturday night over the New York Mets and a one-game lead in the NL East.

The defending World Series champions beat aces Jacob deGrom and Scherzer on consecutive nights to take their biggest lead of the season in the division. New York, which held a 10 1/2-game cushion on June 1, faces its biggest deficit of the year with four games remaining.

Atlanta will try for a three-game sweep Sunday night, with the winner earning the season-series tiebreaker between the teams. Even though both teams are headed to the postseason, that’s important because the NL East champion gets a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Swanson’s 24th homer, a go-ahead, two-run shot in the fifth inning, touched off a frenzy among the sold-out crowd at Truist Park, the ball sailing a few rows up into the seats in left-center to make it 3-2. Olson hit his 32nd homer in the sixth, a solo shot into Chop House seats in right to put Atlanta up 4-2.

Austin Riley led off the fourth with a double and scored on Olson’s single to make it 1-all.

Kyle Wright (21-5) gave up two runs and seven hits with one walk and three strikeouts in five innings as he won his eighth straight decision. The Braves have won 16 of his last 17 starts.

New York went up 2-1 in the fifth when Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil hit consecutive two-out singles.

The Mets led 1-0 in the first when Brandon Nimmo singled, advanced on a walk and a single and scored on Eduardo Escobar‘s groundout. Wright, who threw 30 pitches in the first, stranded two runners in scoring position to prevent further damage.

Scherzer (11-5) allowed a first-inning single to Riley and a third-inning infield single to Ronald Acuna Jr., who advanced to third on a fielding error by Lindor at shortstop but was stranded when Michael Harris II lined out to center. Scherzer patted his glove and pumped his fist as he walked off the mound.

Scherzer was charged with nine hits and four runs with no walks and four strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings as the Mets were knocked out of first place for only the third day all season.

The Braves have won five of the last six against New York to tie the season series 9-all, outscoring the Mets 37-16 over that stretch.

Atlanta’s bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA in September, got a perfect inning from Dylan Lee in the sixth. Jesse Chavez faced four batters in the seventh, Raisel Iglesias faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his NL-leading 39th save in 46 chances.

Since the Braves were a season low-tying four games under .500 at 23-27 after play on May 31, they have gone 76-32, tying the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best record in the majors over that span. They were a season-worst 10 1/2 games behind the first-place Mets on June 1.

Wright, the only 20-game winner in baseball this season, hasn’t officially become the first Braves pitcher to lead the league in wins outright since Russ Ortiz had 21 in 2003, but the Dodgers’ Julio Urias has 17 and can’t reach 20 before the regular season ends.

Wright will become the first Braves pitcher since Hall of Famer Tom Glavine in 2000 to lead the majors in wins. Houston ace Justin Verlander also has 17.

Wright began the game 1-4 with a 6.75 ERA in six career starts and one relief appearance against the Mets.

The Braves, who got homers from Riley, Olson and Swanson off deGrom on Friday, lead the NL with 240 homers.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets: All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. Manager Buck Showalter said Marte is experiencing less pain but not enough to take the next step in his recovery. Marte has been sidelined since Sept. 7.

Braves: RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique. Manager Brian Snitker said there is no timetable for the rookie’s return. Strider has been sidelined since Sept. 21.

NICE GLOVE

Harris ran back and jumped to catch Nimmo’s fly against the wall in center field for the first out of the third.

UP NEXT

Mets RHP Chris Bassitt (15-8, 3.27 ERA) will face RHP Charlie Morton (9-6, 4.29) as the teams conclude a three-game series.