ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Aaron Judge, like the rest of his teammates, marveled Thursday night at the mammoth homer hit by Gary Sanchez in the Yankees’ 10-inning victory over the Rays.
On Friday night, Judge stole the show. The rightfielder homered twice, including a monstrous blast to center to kick-start a four-run 11th inning, as the Yankees beat the Rays, 8-4, in front of 22,182 at Tropicana Field.
“Judge went superhero on us,” Aaron Boone said with a smile.
The AL East-leading Yankees (57-29), who have won 16 of their last 18, bumped their lead over the second-place Rays (50-39) to a season-high 8 ½ games.
Judge, who homered to rightfield in the first off Rays rookie Brendan McKay, hit a first-pitch, 98-mph fastball from Ryne Stanek to center in the 11th to snap a 4-4 tie and give him nine homers this season.
“Just get ready, that’s the biggest thing,” said Judge, who entered the night with two homers in 10 games since coming off the injured list. “He’s got a good fastball he can get up to 100, and he’s got that good splitter, so my biggest thing was just making sure I got ready early so I could stay on that heater but also have a chance at that splitter.”
The offense continued to pile on against Stanek, as Gleyber Torres singled, Gio Urshela doubled and Brett Gardner crushed a three-run home run to make it 8-4. The blast, which came on a 2-and-0, 98-mph fastball, gave Gardner 13 homers, which leads all Yankees outfielders.
“I was just trying to hit a ball in the middle of the field,” Gardner said. “Judge led off with the big homer and then Gleyber and Gio had two great at-bats. He [Stanek] missed with the first two, 2-0 I figured I’d get a good pitch to hit, so I just tried to put a good swing on it.”
In the eighth, Aaron Hicks pinch hit for Mike Tauchman, whose two-run single in the fifth had given the Yankees a 3-1 lead, and homered off Emilio Pagan to tie the score at 4-4.
With Boone wanting to stay away from some of his top bullpen arms that have been taxed of late, Nestor Cortes Jr. and David Hale contributed important outings. Cortes pitched 1 2⁄3 innings and Hale threw 2 1⁄3 before giving way to Aroldis Chapman with two runners on and one out in the 11th. After a strikeout and a walk loaded the bases and brought the tying run to the plate, Chapman got Tommy Pham to line out to first for his 24th save.
“I’m glad to be put in those situations. I’m glad they trust me with it,” said Hale, who improved to 2-0 with a 2.73 ERA in 13 games. “I’m glad to keep the games close and give those guys a chance to swing the bats one more time.”
Masahiro Tanaka, coming off the shortest outing of his career — two-thirds of an inning last Saturday at London Stadium against the Red Sox — was far better. He was charged with four runs in 6 1⁄3 innings, but he left with a 3-2 lead before Cortes allowed a two-out, two-run single by Kevin Kiermaier. Tanaka did give up homers by Nate Lowe and Mike Zunino, lifting his total to 16 allowed in 18 starts.
With one out in the seventh, Tanaka allowed a double by Mike Brosseau and walked Zunino, with a wild pitch putting runners on first and third. The lefthanded Cortes then hit lefthanded-hitting Austin Meadows to load the bases. He struck out Pham and got ahead of the lefthanded-hitting Kiermaier 1-and-2 with a couple of breaking balls, but Cortes then elected to drop down and crossfire Kiermaier for a second straight pitch, this one a fastball — and he slashed it to left for a two-run single and a 4-3 lead.
“I obviously didn’t have my best stuff,” Tanaka said through his translator. “It was kind of a grind. But luckily enough, I was able to get six-plus innings, but there’s a little bit of a bitter feeling having to come out that way in the game and at the end of the day giving up four runs.”
McKay, 23, a two-way player like Shohei Ohtani who made his big-league debut Saturday against the Rangers and allowed one hit in six scoreless innings, was not quite as good Friday. He allowed three runs and six hits in five innings.
The Yankees had scored five runs in the 10th inning Thursday in their 8-4 victory over the Rays. This time it was four runs in the 11th in their 8-4 victory over Tampa Bay. The extra-inning outbursts included a pair of three-run homers and a solo shot.
(On the other hand, after getting blitzed in the top half of each inning, the feisty Rays had the tying run at the plate when each game ended.)
“When it gets to be winning time, these guys know what to do,” Boone said. “It was another really impressive performance.”