NEW YORK — The Yankees sense a special season, even with exactly 100 games remaining before a playoff run they hope will result in their first World Series title in 13 years.
They set a record for most consecutive wins in the new Yankee Stadium, stretching their streak to 13 with a 4-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday night. Aaron Judge hit his major league-leading 25th home run and No. 9 batter Kyle Higashioka followed an intentional walk with a three-run drive that built a four-run lead.
“The fans,” Judge said, “they’re loud, they’re on their feet all game, from the very first pitch they’re there and then the top of the ninth they were screaming.”
Nestor Cortes (6-2) outpitched Shane McClanahan (7-3) in a matchup of stellar starters with sub-2.00 ERAs, and Clay Holmes matched Mariano Rivera’s team record of 28 consecutive scoreless appearances while shrinking his ERA to 0.29.
The major league-leading Yankees have won six in a row and 13 of 14 overall. New York’s 46-16 record is its best after 62 games since 1998 and its home winning streak is its longest since 13 straight at the old ballpark from June 2 to July 1, 1973.
“The energy at Yankee Stadium is always good, but it does feel like with the start we’ve gotten off to, there’s been a lot of energetic, special nights already,” manager Aaron Boone said.
The game was interrupted for nearly 17 minutes in the top of the eighth in a dispute over a pitching change after Randy Arozarena was hit by Miguel Castro‘s pitch with the Yankees leading 4-1. Pitching coach Matt Blake went to the mound while a Rays trainer attended to Arozarena. Ji-Man Choi pinch hit for Isaac Paredes, and Boone came out to bring in left-hander Lucas Luetge.
Crew chief Phil Cuzzi said he consulted with the replay room at the commissioner’s office to make sure Blake went to the mound before Choi was signaled in – only one trip per batter is allowed.
“That was brutal. I feel like that can’t happen,” Higashioka said. “There’s got to be somebody that knows what to do.”
Run-scoring singles by Choi and Rene Pinto cut the gap to one run. Luetge retired Brett Phillips on an inning-ending flyout, and Holmes remained perfect in 11 save chances, getting two outs on grounders around a strikeout.
Boone said he will use Holmes in high-leverage situations when Aroldis Chapman returns from the injured list.
“I think a little of everything,” Boone said of Holmes’ role. “He’ll be closing some games, too. Basically, he’s going to find himself in a lot of the toughest parts of the lineup, so whether that’s the eighth inning, the ninth inning, we’ll just try and match him up as best we can.”
New York leads second-place Toronto by nine games in the AL East and moved 11 games ahead of the Rays, who have lost four of five.
Cortes started 18 of 22 batters with strikes and lowered his ERA to 1.94, allowing one run and three hits in 5 1/3 innings. He left shortly after Higashioka’s throw back to the mound clipped off his glove and his head.
McClanahan, who had won six straight decisions, gave up four runs and three hits in six innings, but just one run was earned and his 1.84 ERA remained second in the AL. Tampa Bay has allowed 43 unearned runs, second-most to 44 by the Chicago White Sox.
Judge put the Yankees ahead in the first with his sixth homer in eight games, an opposite-field drive into the right field short porch off a curveball. The ball would not have been a home run in any of the 29 other ballparks.
Josh Donaldson led off the fifth with a fly to center that Phillips – who had replaced Kevin Kiermaier – dropped for a two-base error. Phillips took his eye off the ball to make sure he didn’t collide with Manuel Margot in right-center.
“That ball should have been caught 100%,” Phillips said.
With two outs and a runner on third, McClanahan fell behind Isiah Kiner-Falefa 3-0, then walked him intentionally. Higashioka pulled a 97 mph fastball just inside the left field foul pole for his third home run in six plate appearances – after hitting none in his first 100.
Donaldson, standing off third, tried to wave the ball fair and raised both arms in the manner of Carlton Fisk in the 1975 World Series.
“I thought it was going to be close,” Donaldson said, “and it was.”
ON THE FARM
Yankees INF Ender Inciarte was released from a minor league contract. He hit .252 with four homers and 11 RBIs in 34 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Rays: Kiermaier left in the middle of the third inning because of a sore left calf and Achilles that started to bother him last week. … RHP Drew Rasmussen was placed on the 15-day IL, retroactive to Sunday, with a strained left hamstring. RHP Ralph Garza Jr. was recalled from the taxi squad. C Mike Zunino, on the IL since Friday with left shoulder inflammation, was sent for a second MRI, this time on his neck.
Yankees: RHP Domingo German, sidelined since spring training with right shoulder impingement, was to pitch three innings of batting practice on Wednesday at the minor league complex in Tampa, Florida.