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Yankees pull away with seven-run sixth inning vs. Rays, reclaim first place in AL East

Thairo Estrada, batting for injured Gio Urshela, gets key hit, a three-run double.

Thairo Estrada #30 of the Yankees hits a

Thairo Estrada #30 of the Yankees hits a three-run double against the Tampa Bay Rays during the sixth inning at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, May 19, 2019. Photo Credit: Steven Ryan

The Yankees continue to survive and even thrive in their injury-depleted mode.

They had a scare Sunday that made the Yankee Stadium crowd — and everyone who saw it — sympathize with Gio Urshela. He fell to the ground in pain during his third inning at-bat after fouling a ball into the ground that bounced up and hit him near his groin.

Urshela struck out in that at-bat and grounded out in his next one, but his subsequent departure ushered in the Yankees’ ongoing mantra of next man up. Thairo Estrada pinch hit for him with two outs in the sixth, doubled home three runs and scored on Brett Gardner's double to cap a seven-run inning that broke a 5-5 tie in the Yankees' 13-5 victory over the Rays.

“The circumstances there are not the greatest,’’ Estrada said through his translator. “You have a teammate that is going out of the game with a possible injury, but it's part of my job to be ready for anyone, any opportunity... It feels great. I think we're doing it all together, and the most important thing is that we win games.’’

The Yankees won four of six against the Rays on consecutive weekends and moved back into the AL East lead, a half-game ahead of Tampa Bay. They have won 22 of 30 since their 6-9 start.

Out of starters because of James Paxton’s elongated stay on the injured list, the Yankees were forced to employ a bullpen game Sunday. The way things started, there was no indication the game would evolve into something of a laugher.

After the Yankees took a 1-0 lead in the first on Kendrys Morales’ run-scoring single, opener Chad Green promptly gave up two-out home runs by Kevin Kiermaier and Willy Adames on consecutive pitches.

Gardner gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the second with a two-run homer off Rays starter Charlie Morton, who came in with a 4-0 record and 2.32 ERA.  That didn't last long, as Nestor Cortes Jr. surrendered a three-run homer by Brandon Lowe in the third.

It may have seemed as if he were closing the door after allowing the roof to cave in, but Cortes actually turned his performance into a positive by retiring 10 of the next 11 batters, and the Yankees tied the score at 5-5 in the fourth on Aaron Hicks’ long two-run homer.

“I feel like slowly I’m starting to see the ball better,’’ said Hicks, who entered the game at 2-for-13 after coming off the injured list to make his 2019 debut last Wednesday. “Sometimes timing takes time. It’s starting to come around.’’

Winning pitcher Adam Ottavino struck out dangerous Austin Meadows on a 3-and-2 slider with the bases loaded to escape the top of the sixth. In the bottom of the inning, DJ LeMahieu popped up a sacrifice bunt with runners on first and second and Clint Frazier was thrown out at the plate when an errant pitch couldn't be handled by Travis d'Arnaud — and the Yankees scored seven runs anyway, six after two were out.

Luke Voit and Morales drew bases-loaded walks and Gleyber Torres barely beat out an RBI infield single to make it 8-5. Then Casey Sadler replaced Ryne Stanek to face Estrada, batting for Urshela, and he ripped the ball past third and into the leftfield corner for an 11-5 lead. Gardner added an RBI double, his second hit of the inning, and LeMahieu homered in the seventh for the Yankees, who had 12 hits and drew nine walks.

Urshela, who wasn't even on Yankees fans' radar before replacing the injured Miguel Andujar this season, is batting .346 and had a walk-off single for the Yankees on Friday night. Then he went down -- and his replacement got another big hit against the Rays.

Boone said Urshela had a “little hard time running’’ after the injury. “I don’t think it's anything too major,'' he said. "We were being kind of cautious there. He wasn’t feeling great; decided to get him out of there.’’

Boone said Estrada epitomizes what the Yankees have achieved despite missing so many players. “Thairo to me has been one of the faces of what we're doing right now,’’ he said. “In a lot of ways, we kind of rushed him up here and threw him into the fire and he’s handled every situation perfectly.’’

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