We haven't seen much of Kelly Johnson lately, but we probably should have. With the game tied 3-3 in the 6th, Johnson hit a go-ahead solo homerun in into the right field seats, starting in his at third base for the first time in since last week, to help boost the Yankees past the Tampa Bay Rays, 9-3, on Saturday afternoon in the Bronx.
Masahiro Tanaka started the game. started out pretty well below we should have, but finished off very strong for his fourth win of the season, as he remains undefeated at 4-0 in his big league career.
Jacoby Ellsbury, after a three-hit game last night, collected three more hits today, raising his batting average to .346 on the year; that continues to lead the team, by a far margin. On an even more impressive note, Ichiro went 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles; he's hitting .375 (18-48) this season off the bench.
The Rays scored one run in both the 1st and 2nd innings against Tanaka. I haven't checked, but I'm pretty sure that the Yankees have not scored first in a game since last weekend against the Los Angeles Angels.
Just a handful of pitches into the game, the second hitter, Desmond Jennings, hit a solo homerun into the Yankees' bullpen, a shot very similar to the homerun he hit off of Vidal Nuno last night, putting the Rays up 1-0, quickly.
Ryan Hanigan made it a 2-0 game in the 2nd inning when, with runners on the corners after after singles by James Loney and David DeJesus, singled to left-center to drive home Loney. Then a couple innings later, in the 4th, Will Myers opened up the frame by hitting a solo homerun just inside the left-field foul pole off Tanaka, pushing the lead to 3-0.
Tanaka's pitches just didn't look very sharp. The Rays were putting a lot of hard hit balls into play, and they were not being fooled very much by the splitter in the early going.
However, the Yankees would not let their star pitcher take the loss without a fight, scoring nine unanswered runs over the 4th through 8th innings to take and stretch out the lead.
Mark Teixeira is really starting to heat up, which is extremely good news for the Yankees. Teixeira blasted a two-run homerun into right field off Rays starter Jake Odorizzi, cutting the lead to 3-2. That was Teixeira's 4th homerun in his last five games, and 5th overall since coming off the DL.
The Yankees would eventually tie the game in the bottom of the 5th after Ichiro doubled and Yangervis Solarte walked to open the inning. Then Ellsbury hit a long ground-rule double to left-center field, scoring Ichiro to even the score. That was the 14th RBI of the year for Ellsbury, on his 10th double.
And then in the 6th, Johnson hit a long homerun off Josh Lueke, hit fourth of the season, to put the Yankees up by a run, 4-3. He hasn't been playing much lately, because Joe Girardi apparently likes Brian Roberts more, but I think Johnson needs some more at-bats.
Entering the 5th inning with his pitch count reaching up pretty high, Tanaka began to turn it. He gave up seven hits through the first four innings, but just one in his final three, on a Loney single in the 6th. other than that, he was a completely different pitcher after the 4th.
His final line had three runs on eight hits, with no walks and five strikeouts on 113 pitches. Tanaka has pitched at least seven innings in each one of his five big league starts, and with the Yankees bullpen getting in a lot of work lately, being able to finish off seven innings was a big deal for Girardi and the bullpen.
After the Yanks added two more insurance runs in the 7th on an RBI single by Teixeira and sac-fly from Alfonso Soriano, Dellin Betances -- Dealin' Dellin -- was, well, dealin' once again. He struck out the first two batters of the 8th with a three-run lead, striking out five in-a-row going back to Friday night, then worked around a Loney double to get Myers out.
The Yankees tacked on two more runs in the 8th inning on an Ichiro double, scoring Brian Roberts, and a Brett Gardner single to push the game wide open, at 9-3. Then Preston Claiborne tossed a scoreless, three up, three down 9th inning to seal the victory.
The rubber-match of the three game series is tomorrow afternoon at 1:05 pm, with CC Sabathia getting the ball against Rays left-hander Eric Bedard, who the Yankees have already faced on this season.