The Yankees opened with a struggling Chad Green and followed him up with Nestor Cortes, Jr., who hasn’t yet had success in the majors.
Going against Tampa Bay’s Charlie Morton, the Yankees seemed to be in trouble when Green gave up two runs in the second.
Instead, the Yankees took advantage of an off-day from Morton and some disastrous relief pitching by the Rays and used a seven-run sixth to blow open their 13-5 win on Sunday in The Bronx, to reclaim a half-game lead in the AL East.
With James Paxton still out with left knee inflammation, the Yankees turned to Green on Sunday in just his third game since being summoned back from the minors where he worked on his mechanics. It was Green’s first start in the majors since June 11, 2017 against Baltimore, when he pitched two innings.
Green pitched a scoreless first and the Yankees got to Morton in the bottom of the inning, when Kendrys Morales delivered a two-out single to drive in DJ LeMahieu.
But Green allowed a pair of two-out homers on consecutive pitches in the second, by Kevin Kiermaier to tie the game and Willy Adames to give the Rays a 2-1 lead.
He followed by drilling Daniel Robertson in the head with a 93-mph fastball on a 1-2 pitch to end Green’s day after 29 pitches. It was the second time this season the right-hander has allowed two homers in an outing.
Cortes entered and the lefty struck out Austin Meadows to end the inning.
Gio Urshela drew a walk to open the bottom of the inning and Brett Gardner, who entered the game 5-for-10 with a double and a homer against Morton, followed with a two-run shot on the first pitch to put the Yankees ahead, 3-2.
The lead didn’t last long, as Cortes promptly allowed a mammoth three-run homer to right-center to Brandon Lowe in the third.
Aaron Hicks tied it with a two-run blast of his own in the bottom of the fourth, reaching the bleachers in right-center. His first homer of the season came after LeMahieu reached on an error by third baseman Yandy Diaz with two outs.
Morton had given up more than two runs only once in nine starts heading into Sunday, but delivered his worst and shortest outing of the year. He needed 88 pitches to complete just four innings.
Cortes kept rolling along, retiring nine in a row after Lowe’s home run.
He pitched four innings and was replaced with two on and two out in the sixth, when Adam Ottavino walked Robertson to load the bases. But Ottavino got Meadows swinging on a 3-2 slider to keep the game knotted at 5-5.
Gardner started the bottom of the sixth with a comebacker that was mishandled by reliever Diego Castillo and generously ruled a hit. With Frazier at the plate, Gardner swiped second. Clint Frazier walked, but LeMahieu popped up an ill-advised bunt attempt for the first out.
Hicks followed with a walk to load the bases for Luke Voit, who also walked to force in Gardner with the go-ahead run. With Gary Sanchez at the plate, a Ryne Stanek pitch got away from catcher Travis d’Arnaud, but Frazier was late to break from third and was tagged out by Stanek for the second out.
Two more walks to Sanchez and Morales scored Hicks to make it 7-5. Gleyber Torres then hit a sharp grounder to short, but Adames bounced the ball to first and Choi wasn’t able to control it. Again, the play was ruled a single and the Yankees were up, 8-5.
Thairo Estrada pinch hit for Urshela, who was injured after he fouled a ball off himself in the third but stayed in the game until the sixth. Estrada delivered a three-run double to left to make it 11-5.
Chance Adams pitched the final three innings for the save.
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