NEW YORK — As they walked off the field Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium Ryan Hanigan turned to Joe Maddon and said what those in and around the Tampa Bay organization were thinking: “That’s more like a Rays win.”
The starting pitcher worked into the seventh inning and the bullpen’s big three took it from there as the Rays beat the Yankees 5-1 to finish a drama-filled 10-game road trip with a .500 record.
“That’s one of the best 5-5 trips in the history of the Rays,” Maddon said. “It really is.”
The Rays lost three of four in Chicago before winning two of three in Boston and New York. They swept the Red Sox in a doubleheader they didn’t want to play, then outlasted the Yankees in 14 innings on Friday night.
What made Sunday’s finale all the more enjoyable was the pitcher who pitched into the seventh inning was Erik Bedard, who earned his first win as a Ray in four starts.
“It feels good to get some innings. The bullpen needed it,” Bedard said. “At the end of the day we’re trying to win as a team. To put six innings up there and help the bullpen was good.”
Bedard snapped a 15-game winless streak as a starter — the second-longest streak of its kind behind Cleveland’s Carlos Carrasco, who hasn’t won in 17 starts.
“Somebody said it’s been a while, but I didn’t realize how long it’s been,” Bedard said.
With the way the Rays starting pitchers have been faltering, Bedard’s outing was nearly perfect.
Entering Sunday’s game, the rotation had pitched five innings or fewer in 14 of the 19 starts since Alex Cobb was placed on the disabled list with a strained left oblique. They had pitched only 112⁄3 innings more than the bullpen through the first nine games of the trip.
As the result, the Rays designated Heath Bell for assignment before the game to create a roster spot so they could add Nathan Karns, who was scheduled to start Sunday for Triple-A Durham. Instead, he flew to New York to serve as insurance in case Bedard had a short outing or if the game went into extra innings.
Turns out Karns wasn’t needed.
The offense scored all its runs off CC Sabathia, with a three-run inside-the-park home run by Wil Myers in the third inning being the hit that changed the game.
Bedard worked out of three jams, leaving two runners on base in the second, fourth and fifth innings. He was perfect in the other three innings he completed.
Hanigan said Bedard continued what he did Tuesday in Boston, when he allowed one run in five innings. The difference between the two starts was the Red Sox were able to foul off a lot of strikes and forced Bedard to throw 104 pitches during those five innings.
Using his change-up and curveball to set up his high-80s fastball, Bedard got the contact he needed against the Yankees and his defense did the rest.
“In terms of execution, what we were trying to do to the hitters, he was getting it done,” Hanigan said. “He does different things. He’s got some options and what he was doing was working. He was hitting his spots. It’s nice to execute a game plan and keep a team under control.”
Maddon said he could have let Bedard pitch deeper, but with the back end of the bullpen relatively rested, he decided it was time for Jake McGee when Bedard allowed a single to start the seventh inning. Joel Peralta worked the eighth, Grant Balfour had the ninth and on a sunny/rainy/sunny afternoon in the Bronx, the Rays resembled the Rays.
“Good pitching was what I was talking about (with Maddon),” Hanigan said. “Some comfortable innings. Some 1-2-3 innings. Relatively good job from everybody. Everybody contributing from the starter to the bullpen. That’s what we’re trying to do to win some games here instead of boat-racing teams, exciting 5-5 games going into the 14th inning. That’s what we got to do to win games. It’s nice. We hadn’t had one like this in a while.”