NEW YORK (AP) — Jordan Montgomery got to Yankee Stadium about four hours before game time, had a few cups of coffee and prepared for his major league debut.
To get the nerves out of his system, the 24-year-old visited the ballpark a day earlier and tossed a ball across the near-empty field to bullpen catcher Radley Haddad.
“I was kind of in the stadium by myself, just kind of look around with nobody in the seats,” the 6-foot-6 left-hander said. “Really take it in.”
Mongtomery pitched before a far larger crowd Wednesday, one that included proud parents Raury and Jim.
He allowed a long two-run homer to Rickie Weeks in the first inning after a two-out walk to Evan Longoria, then settled in. He did not give up any more earned runs as New York rallied past the sloppy Tampa Bay Rays 8-4 to get back to .500.
Another member of the rebuilding Baby Bombers, Montgomery earned the fifth-starter’s job over a group that included Luis Cessa, Chad Green and Bryan Mitchell.
“That’s the cool thing about it: He’s played with quite a few guys in this clubhouse,” said fellow 24-year-old Aaron Judge, who homered for the third straight game. Judge’s 437-foot drive made him the first player to homer twice off the glass of the restaurant behind Monument Park.
“People are curious how far they can see Aaron Judge hit a ball,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
The game was interrupted by a scary moment.
Judge’s sixth-inning RBI single against Jumbo Diaz (0-1) — measured at 116.5 mph off the bat — tied the score 3-3, and the Yankees had runners at the corners and when Brett Gardner hit a one-out comebacker.
Xavier Cedeno fielded the ball and turned toward second, hoping to start an inning-ending double play but forgetting the infield was in and no one was covering the base. He bounced a hurried throw to first, and Gardner slammed into Weeks, who had not played first in the major leagues before this season. Weeks stayed in the baseline as Gardner got to the base. They collided and both fell to the field as Chase Headley came home with the go-ahead run. Gardner crawled to touch first before rolling onto his back, and Weeks remained prone on his chest.
Both walked off the field. Gardner passed a concussion protocol, was diagnosed with a bruised jaw and a strained neck. He was excused from the team’s welcome home dinner and he likely will not play Thursday.
“Two Mack Trucks collided,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman. “He’s going to be sore, I would expect more so tomorrow than he is now.”
Weeks had a bone bruise by the shoulder joint and neck soreness.
“I thought he was a step getting past me, but obviously, it was a step at the same time,” Weeks said.
He also is likely to miss Thursday.
“That’s some pretty good whiplash,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said.
New York was on the verge of falling to 1-5 Sunday when it trailed by three runs at Baltimore before rallying. After erasing a 3-0, fifth-inning deficit against the Rays, the Yankees have a chance Thursday to move over .500 for the first time this season.
Keeping Tampa Bay off-balance with four pitches before tiring, Montgomery opened with strikeouts of Steven Souza Jr. and Kevin Kiermaier. He allowed three runs — two earned — and five hits in 4 2/3 innings, with seven strikeouts and two walks.
“I thought he pitched out of jams really well,” Girardi said. “For the first start I’m pretty pleased. There’s a lot of emotions that go into that.”
Montgomery threw 61 of 89 pitches for strikes, including 17 missed swings. He had only one 1-2-3 inning.
In an attempt to create comfort, the Yankees gave 26-year-old Kyle Higashioka his first big league start after 10 minor league seasons. Higashioka, who made his debut in the ninth inning Monday, caught Montgomery 13 times in the minors last year.
“He always takes it to another level when he gets in a little bit of trouble,” Higashioka said.
Mitchell (1-0) got four outs for the win, and Aroldis Chapman retired two batters for the first save of his second Yankees’ stint.
Errors by shortstop Tim Beckham and Cedeno led to four unearned runs.
Blake Snell allowed a pair of unearned runs and two hits in 4 2/3 innings . He handled the Yankees smoothly until the fifth, when he walked Aaron Hicks with the bases loaded , and Diaz threw a run-scoring wild pitch.
“We’ve got to play cleaner games,” Cash said.
To clear a 40-man roster spot for Montgomery, the Yankees designated RHP Johnny Barbato for assignment.
Yankees: RHP James Kaprielian, the 16th overall draft pick in 2015, could be headed to Tommy John surgery after an evaluation by Dr. Neil ElAttrache. “He’s facing some decisions,” Cashman said. … 1B Greg Bird missed his fourth straight game. After being sidelined by a sore right ankle and a stomach ailment, he was benched against a left-handed starter.
RHP Luis Severino (0-0) is slated to start Thursday’s series finale for the Yankees and RHP Matt Andriese (0-0) for the Rays.