ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Joe Girardi is like any other Yankees fan when Gary Sanchez comes to the plate.
“I think you kind of say, ‘What’s next?’ because of what we’ve seen,” Girardi said late yesterday afternoon.
What the Yankees have seen is remarkable and it continued last night when the rookie crushed two more home runs in the Yankees’ 11-5 victory over the Rays at Tropicana Field.
The 23-year-old Sanchez drove in a run with a single in a three-run first against Alex Cobb, then lined a three-run shot down the leftfield line in a four-run second. He also ripped a solo blast in the sixth.
The second homer made Sanchez the fastest player in major league history — 45 games — to reach 19 homers.
He flied out in the fourth, but added No. 19 on an 0-and-2 fastball after taking two straight curveballs from lefty Justin Marks. The homer gave the Yankees an 8-4 lead.
“It’s hard to believe,” Girardi said afterward. “I haven’t seen anything like it.”
A common sentiment.
“I’ve never seen anything like it, what he’s doing,” said Brian McCann, whose four-hit night barely created a ripple. “His swing . . . he doesn’t have any holes.”
Even Sanchez, who has homered in four straight games and who has eight homers in his last 12 games, has been caught a bit by surprise.
“I never thought it was going to be like this,” Sanchez said through his translator. “But at the same time, you work very hard so you can have very good numbers during the season.”
Numbers that will force voters to at least consider him, even though it will be less than two months of work, as an AL Rookie of the Year candidate.
“I think you have to think about it, you really do,” Girardi said. “I know people are going to argue he’s only been here two months, but his two months have been as good as it gets.”
Sanchez smiled, and said: “I don’t know. It’s not up to me.”
After Sanchez’s three-run homer in Tuesday’s seventh inning snapped a 2-2 tie in a 5-3 victory, Mark Teixeira said the rookie had “carried” the Yankees, and was the only reason they’ve stayed on the periphery of the playoff race.
The Yankees (79-72), who got a two-run homer from Donovan Solano in a three-run ninth that made it 11-5, are still huge long shots to get that berth. They crawled within 2 ½ games of Baltimore for the second wild card, but entering the night there were three teams (Detroit, Houston and Seattle) between them and the Orioles.
The Astros and Mariners won earlier in the day, and the Tigers/Twins game was postponed because of rain.
Masahiro Tanaka, red hot coming into the night — 6-0 with a 1.86 ERA in his previous eight starts — was spotted a 7-0 lead after two innings.
The righthander had no issues through two, then went through the oddest inning of his Yankees career in the third as the last-place Rays (64-87) hit four solo home runs.
Bobby Wilson, Evan Longoria, Miller and Corey Dickerson took Tanaka deep. The latter three were consecutive, marking the third time in franchise history the Rays went back-to-back-to-back. It was the first time in Rays’ history they hit four home runs in an inning.
Tanaka (14-4), who has allowed 22 homers in 31 starts, allowed four runs and seven hits in six innings. He still did far better than Cobb who, in his fourth start since returning from Tommy John surgery, lasted only 1 1⁄3 innings, allowing seven runs.