ST. PETERSBURG – Many times this season the Rays' strategy of opening the game with a short reliever and using the bullpen to finish hasn't had much success.
Friday wasn't one of those nights.
A total of six pitchers held the Yankees and their vaunted lineup to five hits in a 2-1 win in front of 27,252 at Tropicana Field. Sergio Romo came up big in the ninth inning to earn the save. He gave up a leadoff single to Miguel Andujar but got Gleyber Torres to fly out deep to left and Brett Gardner to hit into a game-ending double play.
Romo fell behind Gardner 3-0 before getting the count to 3-2. He then got a ground ball over second base and into the shift that ended it. That was especially big with power hitters Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton waiting on deck.
"That was huge,'' Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "When he falls behind 3-0, you kind of wonder what's going on in his mind. But he's a veteran guy who took a deep breath and realized he needed to force a ball in play. Our defense was there to pick him up. A huge double play.''
It was the 10th straight game the Rays have failed to score more than four runs, but they improved to 5-5 in those games. It was also just the second victory in seven games this season for Tampa Bay against the Yankees, who have the best record in the majors at 50-23.
C.C. Sabathia started for New York and survived a rough first inning in which the Rays left the bases loaded. They also left the bases loaded in the sixth.
The Rays (35-40) were able to hit Sabathia much of the night, but they didn't see any results until the fourth inning. Daniel Robertson, fresh off the 10-day disabled list, doubled down the third-base line with one out. Carlos Gomez was then hit by a pitch. Willy Adames lined a single to right that scored Robertson for the Rays' first run.
They struck again in the fifth. Matt Duffy led off with an infield single and got to second when Sabathia's toss to first was errant. A Wilson Ramos single put runners on first and third with no outs. C.J. Cron, mired in a 1-for-30 slump, launched a ball to deep right that Stanton caught against the padding for an out, but Duffy was able to score to make it 2-0.
"Obviously we needed the run,'' Duffy said. "To take that swing and drive it the other direction, I think that was big for him and for us.''
The Yankees were held to two hits over the first six innings, but they got something going in the seventh off reliever Chaz Roe. A one-out walk and a single by Brett Gardner put runners on first and second. Aaron Judge then had a sharp hit to right that allowed Gleyber Torres to easily score and cut the lead to 2-1.
But Rays reliever Jose Alvarado pitched a perfect eighth, which set up Romo for the ninth.
Ryne Stanek started for the Rays and lasted one inning, pitching out of a first-and-third jam. Ryan Yarbrough was next and had the longest stint of the six Rays pitchers, 3⅓ innings. He's the only pitcher that will be unavailable for today's game.
"You just don't limit that team to one run very often,'' Cash said. "The guys came in and did their jobs. That's probably about as good as you can make it.''
With one of the toughest schedules in baseball this month, the Rays are sure to have many more difficult games. But wins like the one Friday most likely will boost the confidence.
"Every game against these guys are games that we need to grind out,'' Duffy said. "Teams like this don't give you games.
"We haven't been getting blown out in awhile, but we need to find ways to score more runs."