Pitching, Michael Perez Lift Rays To Series-Opening Win Over Yankees

Michael Perez’s sacrifice fly in the eighth inning lifted the Rays to a 1-0 win over the Yankees on Friday night. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays came into Friday night’s series opener against the Yankees at Tropicana Field having scored 18 runs in their last seven games and with a .211 batting average on the season.

Two hits and one run does not help those numbers, but they managed to come away with a 1-0 win.

“We’ve been scuffling and I can’t say enough about the pitching, led probably by Chaz Roe the last two innings,” said manager Kevin Cash. “Overall, it was a good win and when you win games like that a lot of things have to go your way and play a clean game.”

Michael Perez, pinch hitting for Mike Zunino with one out in the eighth, lofted a sacrifice fly to center that scored Yoshi Tsutsugo with the game’s only run. 

Perez fouled a ball off his left knee on the previous pitch and needed a couple of minutes to get his bearings.

“I wasn’t trying to do too much,” said Perez, who turned 28 on Friday. “I was just trying to put the ball in play. (Yankees reliever Adam) Ottavino has a tough slider and I was just trying to put the ball in play.” 

Tsutsugo led off the inning with a walk. After Willy Adames struck out, Kevin Kiermaier walked. With Perez at the plate, Ottavino uncorked a wild pitch that advanced the runners to second and third, which set the stage for the catcher’s first RBI of the season. 

The Rays did not get a runner in scoring position until the sixth when Kevin Kiermaier led off with a double. He advanced to third when Austin Meadows fanned on a wild pitch for the second out of the inning. Brandon Lowe then popped out to end the inning.

In the top of the seventh, the Yankees loaded the bases on three walks, two by Diego Castillo to start the inning. Nick Anderson walked Gio Urshela on nine pitches to fill the bases with two outs before whiffing Gary Sanchez to end the threat. 

Blake Snell, making his 100th career start, and Andrew Kittredge held the Yankees without a hit through five innings. Snell had another laborious outing in that he threw 59 pitches in three innings and walked the leadoff man in the first and third. However, only one runner got as far as second base.

“I am happy with what I am doing and I am happy with the pace,” said Snell. “I am definitely happy with the win today, which was big. The bullpen stepped up and hopefully we can keep this going.”

The Yankees’ first hit was a single by D.J. LeMahieu in the sixth with one out off Pete Fairbanks. 

Mike Tauchman led off the eighth with a double off Chaz Roe, but was cut down trying to advance to third when Willy Adames fielded LeMahieu’s grounder and threw a strike to Yandy Diaz. 

“Just a heads up play,” said Cash. “He can change games with his defense and that was a mentality of understanding where the runner was and what was at stake.”

Roe did not allow another base runner and went two innings to pick up the win.

“That was huge,” Roe said when asked about starting this four-game series against the Yankees with a win after having lost six of seven. “We definitely needed this win. Hopefully, we get this momentum going (Saturday’s) doubleheader and take care of business.”

The teams will play a doubleheader Saturday with both games seven innings. It will be the fourth twin bill in the Rays’ history at Tropicana Field. They split the previous three.

Tom Layberger has been a sports writer and editor since 1990. Among the companies he has worked for are Beckett Publishing, The Topps Company and Comcast. In addition to being a contributing writer for sportstalkflorida.com, Tom also writes for forbes.com and Tampa Bay Business & Wealth Magazine. A native of the Philadelphia suburbs and a University of South Florida grad, Tom is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation. He resides in Tampa.