The Yankees dropped two of three last week in Tampa Bay and then blew a pair of games in Baltimore. On Sunday, New York avoided the dreaded 1-5 start by getting a 7-3 win in a game in which it drew 10 walks (five by Matt Holliday) but had little to show for it until scoring all of its runs after the fifth inning.
“I said the other day we were a couple of hits away and a couple of pitches away from having a much different record,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “We didn’t take advantage of some free passes early on, but our guys kept at it. These guys showed a lot today.”
Aaron Judge hit the game-tying home run in the eighth inning, and Starlin Castro lined the tiebreaking single in the ninth after two more walks.
“I’m excited. It’s going to be packed,” Judge said of Monday’s game. “We’ve got a great team here and I’m just excited for this 2017 season to get going and be home for a little bit, and play in front of our fans.”
Judge might be the only young member of the lineup who plays Monday. Catcher Gary Sanchez is on the disabled list with a right biceps strain, and first baseman Greg Bird might sit out after missing the Sunday contest due to a stomach bug.
The Rays are off to their best seven-game start in team history by winning five of their first seven games. Tampa Bay is three games over .500 for the first time since July 2, 2015, after getting a 7-2 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday.
Tampa Bay is hitting .271, has scored 33 runs and hit seven home runs after Jesus Sucre, Corey Dickerson and Steven Souza Jr. went deep Sunday.
“We should feel good right now. We do feel good,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said after his team took three of four games from Toronto. “We do feel good about how we’re playing and how everybody’s contributing.”
Everybody includes Evan Longoria, who has two home runs and five RBIs despite a 6-for-26 (.231) start. He was 3-for-9 with a home run last week against the Yankees, is a career .278 hitter against New York and has 15 home runs at the current Yankee Stadium.
Souza has been the Rays’ best hitter so far and takes a .417 average into Monday — just in time for another trip to New York. Last season, Souza was a .303 hitter (10-for-35) with five home runs and seven RBIs at Yankee Stadium.
Souza fared especially well against Michael Pineda last season by hitting .476 (10-for-21) with four home runs and seven RBIs.
Pineda will be on the mound Monday for the Yankees, who hope his second start goes better than Wednesday’s start in Tampa Bay. In a 4-1 loss, Pineda was tagged for four runs and eight hits in 3 2/3 innings.
The disappointing showing extended his winless drought to a career-high 11 games. Pineda’s last win was Aug. 5 against the Cleveland Indians and since then he is 0-4 with a 4.33 ERA.
As often was the case last year, Pineda struggled with two outs. Hitters had a .325 average with two outs against him last season, and Tampa Bay was 3-for-5 with two outs against him Wednesday.
“I feel good, though,” Pineda said. “It happened again with two outs. I thought I made good pitches, but they put the ball in play where nobody was.”
Pineda is 2-5 with a 4.65 ERA in 13 career starts against Tampa Bay.
Alex Cobb (1-0) opposed Pineda (0-1) on Wednesday and allowed one run and four hits in 5 2/3 innings for the win. He will face the Yankees Monday for the fourth time in seven starts since returning from Tommy John surgery Sept. 2.
“It’s very challenging,” Cobb told reporters before Sunday’s game. “I had a really good outing against them in New York, and then I came back and had to face them the next outing at home.”
It was Cobb’s first win since Aug. 21, 2014, against Detroit when the right-hander compiled seven straight wins.
In 13 career starts against New York, Cobb is 6-3 with a 2.82 ERA. In his last start at New York, Cobb took a no-hitter into the eighth inning and wound up with a no-decision when the Yankees won in the ninth inning on Sept. 11, 2014.