SAN DIEGO — The Tampa Bay Rays are unanimous in their praise of Randy Arozarena, who is living up to his nickname, “The Cuban Rocket.”
Arozarena homered for the third straight game and Kevin Kiermaier and Michael Perez also went deep for the Rays, who beat the New York Yankees 8-4 Wednesday night to move within one victory of reaching the AL Championship Series for the first time in 12 years.
“He’s the best player on the planet,” Kiermaier said. “He’s incredible. He’s very unique in so many ways. Everyone loves him. He’s the man. What he’s doing is incredible.”
New York slugger Giancarlo Stanton hit a two-run homer off Shane McClanahan to center field in the eighth inning to become the first player with a home run in each of his team’s first five games of a single postseason. Stanton has six homers and 13 RBIs in those five games. McClanahan made his major league debut in Game 1 on Monday night.
Arozarena, a 25-year-old rookie from Havana, is having a breakout postseason. He homered off Gerrit Cole in the first inning of Game 1, a 9-3 Yankees win, and off rookie Deivi Garcia in the first inning of Game 2, a 7-5 Rays win.
Arozarena hit a shot deep to left leading off the fifth Wednesday night to chase Masahiro Tanaka and give Tampa Bay a 5-1 lead.
The Rays took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five Division Series. Game 4 is Thursday night at Petco Park, which has yielded 16 home runs in three games – nine by Tampa Bay.
The Rays are looking to advance out of the ALDS for just the second time. They reached the 2008 World Series before losing to the Philadelphia Phillies.
Arozarena went 3 for 4 with a walk. He leads all players in the postseason with 12 hits in five games. He went hitless in five postseason plate appearances in 2019 for St. Louis, which traded him to Tampa Bay in January.
On Tuesday night, Rays starter Tyler Glasnow called Arozarena “the best baseball player on earth right now. What he’s doing is phenomenal.”
Added Kiermaier: “We should all take a page out of his book in what his routine is and how he comes to the field each and every day. He just doesn’t think up there. He goes up there and he’s so raw in every facet of his game, and he goes out there and just does it night in and night out. It’s incredible.”
Rays manager Kevin Cash called it “pretty spectacular. He’s wowing all of us in the dugout. I’m sure there are guys who have done some special things, but when you’re sitting there and watching it firsthand, it’s pretty remarkable what’s taking place.”
Yankees catcher Kyle Higashioka said Arozarena has an unwavering approach at the plate.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen before where a guy punishes every single mistake,” Higashioka said. “We can’t get away with anything against him right now. It’s been pretty frustrating.”
With the Yankees facing elimination, “We’ve got to find a way to obviously keep him in check,” manager Aaron Boone said. “We’ll continue to dive in and just try to execute pitches. We’ve made some mistakes, and he hasn’t missed them.”
“To be quite honest, I think my homer really got us going, and then it was a snowball effect after that,” Kiermaier said.
Perez hit a two-run shot to left off Chad Green in the sixth. Kiermaier was aboard on a leadoff double. It was the 11th home run by a No. 9 hitter this postseason, the most all-time.
Charlie Morton got the win after holding the Yankees to two runs, one earned, and four hits in five innings. He struck out six and walked two in winning his fifth straight postseason decision.
Tanaka took the loss after allowing five runs and eight hits in four-plus innings. He struck out four and walked one.
PINSTRIPES IN SAN DIEGO
With the series at a neutral site, Tampa Bay, the AL’s top seed, was the home team in Games 1 and 2 and the Yankees batted last in Game 3 and will do so again in Game 4. That meant the Bronx Bombers wore pinstripes, one of the rare times they’ve done so away from Yankee Stadium in recent decades. The last time they wore pinstripes in an NL park was on April 15, 1998, against the Angels in a game played at Shea Stadium after an expansion joint fell into the seats at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees played home games at Shea from 1974-75 when Yankee Stadium was being remodeled. Most recently, they wore pinstripes during a series in London against the Boston Red Sox in 2019 and in Tokyo on March 30-31, 2004, for a season-opening series against the Rays.
Rays: Ryan Thompson will be the Game 4 opener.
Yankees: LHP Jordan Montgomery makes his postseason debut. Montgomery was on the Yankees’ 2017 ALDS and ALCS rosters but did not pitch. He went 2-3 with a 5.11 ERA in 10 regular-season starts this year. He lasted two-thirds of an inning against the Rays on Sept. 2, allowing two-run homers to Arozarena and Mike Brosseau.