Gardner powers Yankees past Rays 3-2, spoiling Snell's debut
NEW YORK >> Right off the bat, Brett Gardner knew it was gone.
Gardner hit a solo home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the New York Yankees a 3-2 victory over Tampa Bay on Saturday, spoiling the impressive major league debut of Rays top pitching prospect Blake Snell.
Gardner singled home the tying run in the seventh and then connected on a 3-1 pitch from Erasmo Ramirez (4-1) two innings later, pointing toward the Yankees' dugout as he trotted to first base and the ball soared into the second deck in right field. The speedy outfielder was swarmed by teammates at home plate and doused during his postgame interview on the field.
"I put a good swing on it," Gardner said. "I felt good at the plate. I felt like I was seeing the ball well."
Andrew Miller (1-0) worked a scoreless inning for the win, getting a double-play grounder to end the ninth.
Masahiro Tanaka gave New York seven quality innings opposite Snell, perhaps baseball's premier pitching prospect. The slim left-hander with the boyish face permitted one run and two hits in five innings, striking out six and walking one.
"Just an outstanding effort," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "There's a lot of anxiety that goes on for a debut. I thought he really handled it well."
Snell was selected the minor league player of the year last season by Baseball America and USA Today after going 15-4 with a 1.41 ERA at three levels. He struck out 163 in 134 innings and could be the next ace in line for a Tampa Bay team with a strong track record of developing All-Star starters, from Scott Kazmir and James Shields to David Price and Chris Archer.
The 23-year-old Snell was optioned back to Triple-A Durham after the game, as expected. He got called up to make a spot start in place of Ramirez, who won in relief Thursday.
With a brief opportunity to impress, Snell did just that with his 95 mph fastball and big-breaking curve.
"Looked like it broke about 4 feet," Cash said. "It looked like it started at some batters' eyes."
Snell appeared nervous early on, taking deep breaths during his warmups and throughout a 24-pitch first inning. New York scored on a wild pitch that catcher Hank Conger probably could have blocked, but Snell escaped when left fielder Desmond Jennings made a leaping catch at the left-field fence of a long drive by Alex Rodriguez — one of Snell's favorite players while growing up in the Seattle area.
"I felt like I just had to calm myself down and get into my rhythm," Snell said. "It was more like I was anxious and trying to do too much, and then after that I kind of felt that I got more into my groove."
Kevin Kiermaier homered off the right-field foul pole for the Rays. Corey Dickerson had three hits, including an RBI double.
Trailing 2-1 in the seventh, the Yankees drew two walks against Tampa Bay's bullpen and loaded the bases with two outs when Jacoby Ellsbury reached on catcher's interference for the third time this season and 17th time in his career.
"That gave us an opportunity," manager Joe Girardi said. "He waits a long time with two strikes and protects. It's unfortunate for a catcher, you get whacked in the hand, but it happens."
Gardner then hit a line drive right back at Xavier Cedeno that deflected off the reliever's glove and rolled away for a tying infield single.
"Not how you would draw it up," Gardner said. "But at this point, we'll take it any way we can get it."
It was New York's first walk-off win this season and Gardner's sixth career game-ending hit, including two homers. The other one came in August 2013 against Detroit.
Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry from national champion Alabama, who grew up a Yankees fan in Florida, met several players before the game and received a tour of the clubhouse from Girardi.
Rays: Evan Longoria was the DH, giving him a bit of a break. Steve Pearce started at third base for the eighth time in his major league career — the other seven came in 2011 with Pittsburgh.
Yankees: OF Aaron Hicks had an MRI that revealed inflammation in his sore left shoulder. He received a cortisone shot and will be shut down for four or five days, but the team hadn't decided yet whether to put Hicks on the disabled list, Girardi said. Hicks left Friday night's game after diving for Brandon Guyer's bloop single. ... Yankees reliever Branden Pinder has a partial ligament tear in his right elbow and probably will decide in the next couple of days whether to have Tommy John surgery, Girardi said. The other option is to try a rehabilitation program that hopefully would help him pitch with the partial tear.
Rays: LHP Drew Smyly (0-2, 2.91 ERA) starts the series finale Sunday, the fourth of five straight left-handers lined up to face the Yankees by Oakland, Tampa Bay and Texas.
Yankees: RHP Michael Pineda (1-1, 5.29) makes his fourth start of the season.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.