An injury bug that hit in spring training and quickly became an outright infestation after the season began has derailed the Yankees not a bit.
And on Friday night, nearly seven weeks into the season, they claimed first place in the AL East, scoring three runs in the ninth inning for a 4-3 walk-off win over the Rays before 41,281 at the Stadium.
Gio Urshela, the club’s hottest hitter of late, rocketed a 2-and-0 fastball from lefthander Jose Alvarado over the head of a leaping Kevin Kiermaier and one hop off the right-centerfield wall for the game-winner.
“We got this,” CC Sabathia said of the feeling in the dugout as the ninth unfolded. “Especially when Gio came up. I said, ‘Turn off the lights.’ ”
Urshela entered this season with a .225/.274/.315 career slash line in 466 at-bats. After a three-hit night, he’s at .347/.398/.500 this season.
The Yankees (27-16), who have won 21 of their last 28 games, took a half-game lead over the Rays (26-16), who are 12-12 in their last 24 games.
Luke Voit led off the ninth against Alvarado — who entered with a 1.04 ERA in 18 games — with his 11th home run, a drive to right-centerfield that made it 3-2. It was the first homer allowed by Alvarado this season.
“He’s got some of the nastiest stuff in the big leagues,” Voit said. “It’s 100, 101 [mph] with nasty sink and he’s got a slider that’s 92. It’s always nice to come back and I feel like we’ve been coming back so many times. It’s been so fun and of course with Gio doing it again, it’s unbelievable. This is like the funnest team I’ve ever played for.”
After Gary Sanchez lined a single and Kendrys Morales — who hit a long home run into the suite level in rightfield in the second — struck out, Gleyber Torres won an impressive 10-pitch battle, doubling off the wall in left on a full-count 99-mph fastball.
“Probably his best at-bat of the year,” Aaron Boone said of Torres, who has hit safely in 18 of his last 19 games and is 26-for-75 (.347) in that stretch.
An intentional walk to Clint Frazier loaded the bases and Cameron Maybin, pinch hitting for Brett Gardner, watched Alvarado spike one for a wild pitch that brought in pinch runner Thairo Estrada to tie it at 3.
Maybin grounded into a 5-2 fielder’s choice for the second out, setting up Urshela. He ended it with his first career walk-off hit on a 99-mph fastball and improved to 12-for-28 (.429) with runners in scoring position.
“It’s very fun to see runners in scoring position,” said Urshela, who leads the majors with three game-tying or go-ahead hits in the ninth inning or later. “I feel really good and I have more confidence to bring in that run.”
The rally took the spotlight off Chad Green, who allowed two runs (one earned) in the eighth to put the Yankees in a 3-1 deficit. He had declared himself all but fixed after striking out the side against the Rays last Sunday in St. Petersburg in his return to the big leagues, but the Rays weighed in with their response Friday night. Daniel Robertson and Brandon Lowe doubled and Torres threw away Kiermaier’s infield single to make it 3-1.
The game was delayed for 35 minutes because of rain in the bottom of the eighth, and before all that came the continuation of what can be described as a strained relationship between CC Sabathia and the Rays.
After striking out Lowe to end the sixth — the lefthander’s final inning of the night — a pumped-up Sabathia appeared to turn and yell an expletive of some kind toward the Rays’ dugout.
“I don’t remember what I said,” Sabathia said, a response missing only a laugh track.
He said the reaction wasn’t related to last Saturday, when, during the Yankees’ 7-2 loss to the Rays, he stepped out of the dugout to yell at the Rays’ Yonny Chirinos after he hit Voit with a pitch after DJ LeMahieu’s homer.
“It’s the same thing. We hit a homer, then they throw up and in. It’s stupid,” a still-bothered Sabathia said after last Saturday’s game. “What are you doing? We don’t want to get into that again. We did that last year.”
And, of course, there was last September, when Sabathia earned a suspension for intentionally hitting Jesus Sucre. That came an inning after the Rays’ Andrew Kittridge threw one behind Austin Romine’s head.
Pressed again about yelling at the Rays on Friday night, Sabathia said, “Just excited about the game. I mean, you know, we’re playing for first place.”