Hiroki Kuroda and Brett Gardner led the Yankees to a win over the Tampa Bay Rays

Hiroki Kuroda pitching.

Hiroki Kuroda pitching.

The Yankees beat the Tampa Bay Rays 4-2 on Sunday afternoon to give them their second consecutive win and a much needed series win at Tropicana Field. Hiroki Kuroda only allowed four hits and two runs in 6.2 innings, and Kuroda, who threw 97 pitches, impressively did not pitch much worse after he threw 80 pitches like he had in previous starts. 

Kuroda won his eighth game of the season and lowered his ERA to 3.97. He was impressively able to retire 17 consecutive batters between the first inning and the seventh inning. Evan Longoria drove in the first run off of Kuroda in the first inning and he drove in the second run in the seventh on a single that scored Matt Joyce. Kuroda credited his extra rest with his improved performance. 

“I think so,” Kuroda said. “The two extra days, I was able to physically get refreshed as well as mentally. For me, I think my slider, especially against the right handed hitters, was pretty decent.”

The offense supported Kuroda on Sunday, which has not happened in many other games that he has pitched for the Yankees. The first three runs that the Yankees scored were off of singles. In the fifth inning, Brett Gardner hit a single to center that scored Stephen Drew and Martin Prado and then Jacoby Ellsbury broke his 17 at-bat hitless streak with a single between the shortstop and third baseman that sent Gardner home to make the score 3-1. Jeremy Hellickson, who pitched five innings, allowed the three runs in the fifth with two outs. 

In the eighth inning, to give the Yankees an insurance run, Mark Teixeira hit a 403-foot homer to right-center. That homer was his 20th homer of the season, which means that Teixeira now has 11 20-homer seasons. He is the 14th player in Major League history to hit 20 homers in at least 11 of his first 12 seasons. His 361st career home run tied legendary Yankee Joe DiMaggio for 80th place on the all-time list.   

We hadn’t played well the first few games of the road trip, so it is really good bouncing back the way we did the last few games,” Teixeira said. “Hellickson was really good. He was mixing up his pitches. Give the guys credit, that two-out rally really gave us a shot in the arm. Other than that, he was really impressive. Anytime you get men on base and have a chance to score runs when your team’s not scoring runs, you’ve got to try to take advantage of it. And we did.” 

The bullpen came through for Kuroda as well and was better than in previous games behind him since they had lost five games for him this season. Kuroda left with a 3-2 lead, and Shawn Kelley, Dellin Betances and David Robertson combined to allow only one hit in 2.1 innings. Kelley struck out the only batter he faced and then Betances’s two strikeouts in the eighth increased his season total to an impressive 109. Robertson recorded his 33rd save in 35 chances in his first season replacing Mariano Rivera as closer.

After previously struggling mightily with runners in scoring position, the Yankees are now an improved .364 with RISP over their last two games. They still only scored four and three runs in their last two games, respectively, but they will have to continue hitting well with runners in scoring position to continue winning games. 

As a result of their last two wins, the Yankees are now 3.5 games behind the Seattle Mariners for the second wild-card spot. After an off-day on Monday, they will play three games against the Houston Astros and then three against the Chicago White Sox.

The Astros and White Sox have a .416 and .476 winning percentage, respectively, which makes winning those two series very important because the Yankees have the hardest remaining schedule of all 19 remaining playoff contenders, according to Jeff Passan. Of their final 30 games, 27 are against teams in the American League East. 

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