The Tampa Bay Rays are playing in the ALCS, but how did they beat the Yankees?

Riley Platt, Sports Reporter

Despite being the number one seed in the American League, the Tampa Bay Rays entered their American League Division Series matchup with the New York Yankees with a major David and Goliath notion surrounding this matchup. The Rays made it clear that they didn’t want to be seen as underdogs, and Friday’s series win sent a message to the rest of the league that they no longer fit this status.

Game one saw the two clubs’ aces square off: Gerrit Cole for the Yankees and Blake Snell for the Rays. While this highly anticipated series kicked off with an elite pitching battle, the bats came to life for both teams early on. The Yankees would hold a small lead for the majority of the game, but things would break open when Giancarlo Stanton hit a grand slam in the top of the ninth inning. This would push the Yankees to a 9-3 victory, giving them an early 1-0 series lead.

The Rays would get off to a hot start in game two as Randy Arozarena hit a home run for the second consecutive game in the first inning. However, it wouldn’t take long for Giancarlo Stanton to respond with his second homer of the series to tie the game up. The Rays would then hit two home runs of their own, courtesy of catcher Mike Zunino and outfielder Manuel Margot. Despite building a solid margin, no lead is ever safe against the powerful Yankees offensive attack. The ninth inning was where things would get interesting, as Rays reliever Pete Fairbanks would get himself into quite the jam. The Yankees found themselves down three runs with a golden opportunity: bases loaded with no outs. Through some clutch pitches and controversial calls, Fairbanks would escape potential disaster, giving the Rays a 7-5 win to tie the series. 

Tampa Bay entered game three with all kinds of momentum, and it showed. In the top of the second, a Michael Perez RBI single would give the Rays an early jump. It didn’t take long before an Aaron Judge sacrifice fly would knot the game up at 1-1. A three-run homer by Kevin Kiermaier would open up the floodgates for the Rays in the fourth inning, setting the tone for the rest of the game. Arozarena would continue his onslaught of the New York pitching staff in the fifth inning when he went yard for his third home run of the series. Giancarlo Stanton would yet again hit a home run, but it just wouldn’t be enough as the Yankees fell 8-4, going down 2-1 in the series.

Due to game four having a more low-profile pitching matchup, fans may have expected this one to be a massive display of hitting power. However, it was anything but that early on. New York gave Jordan Montgomery the start, while Tampa Bay would enact their “opener” strategy, starting reliever Ryan Thompson. Things were rather quiet early, up until a towering home run courtesy of Yankees first baseman Luke Voit. Thompson would later walk the bases loaded with no outs. Rays manager Kevin Cash stuck with Thompson, who would diffuse the situation, getting out of the inning while only giving up one more run. The Rays would produce a similar situation on offense, with Willy Adames scoring off of a Brandon Lowe RBI, shrinking the Yankees lead to one run. Things would become quiet up until the sixth inning, when Gleyber Torres hit an absolute moonshot to give New York a 4-1 lead. Yankees reliever Zach Britton would come in, paralyzing the Rays offense. Aaron Boone would bring in closer Aroldis Chapman in the eighth inning, who closed out a 5-1 Yankees victory, forcing a game five.

These teams faced off Friday night in game five in a win-or-go-home scenario. The Yankees gave star pitcher Gerrit Cole the start, while the Rays would go with Tyler Glasnow. The Rays quickly found themselves with a golden opportunity, as the bases were loaded in the bottom of the first inning. Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, they squandered this opportunity and were unable to get any runs across. While Gerrit Cole dominated, the Rays pulled Tyler Glasnow in the third inning, handing reliever Nick Anderson the reins. The Yankees would strike first, as slugger Aaron Judge hit a lead-off home run in the top of the fourth. The Rays would finally get a run on the board when Austin Meadows homered in the fifth inning, tying things at 1-1. This game would go back into the pitching affair, up until the bottom of the eighth. Mike Brosseau stepped up to the plate to face Aroldis Chapman. To say these two have history is nothing short of an understatement, when a Chapman pitch upwards of 100 MPH sailed near Brosseau’s head in the regular season. After working the count, Brosseau would rope one into left that would clear the fence and give the Rays a late 2-1 lead. The Yankees had one more chance in the top of the ninth, where they were subsequently shut down by Rays reliever Diego Castillo.

Brosseau’s go-ahead home run summed up the new direction of the Rays so well. Despite being a small-market team, they have gone out and acquired quality players without breaking the bank in the process. These may not be household names, but after taking down the Yankees juggernaut, they may as well be. In fact, the game-winning home run was hit by an undrafted player. The Rays have shown that you do not have to have a lineup full of superstars to accomplish great things.

The Rays will continue their journey when they face the Houston Astros in the American League Championship Series, which begins Sunday evening. An added motivation factor will be present as the Rays were knocked out of the postseason last year by the Astros in the ALDS. This year, the stakes will be even higher with a trip to the World Series on the line. One thing is for certain: the Tampa Bay Rays are anything but the MLB’s best-kept secret.


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