NEW YORK (AP) _ Even when a pitcher tried to walk him on purpose, Gary Sanchez almost hit a home run.
That’s how good things are going for the rookie _ and his team, too.
Sanchez homered and nearly launched another as Tampa Bay messed up an intentional walk, leading the hard-charging Yankees to their season-best seventh
straight win, 5-1 over the Rays on Saturday.
“The guys feel really good about themselves,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
No wonder, with how they’re playing and moving up in the playoff race.
The Yankees closed within three games of AL East-leading Boston, their closest to the lead since mid-April. They began the day one game behind Baltimore and Detroit for the second wild-card spot, with the Orioles playing the Tigers later at night.
Masahiro Tanaka (13-4) struck out 10 and took a shutout into the eighth inning. Chris Archer (8-18) tied the Tampa Bay record for losses in a season, set by Tanyon Sturtze in 2002.
It was scoreless in the sixth when Jacoby Ellsbury hit a two-run homer and Sanchez followed with a long drive.
In the eighth, after Ellsbury’s double put runners on second and third with no outs, the Rays seemed set to walk Sanchez.
“I knew they were going to walk me,” Sanchez said through a translator. “At the same time, I wanted to be ready.”
In case, maybe, a soft toss floated near the strike zone.
“It’s not something pitchers are always doing a lot and comfortable,” Girardi said.
He was right.
Catcher Bobby Wilson moved wide as reliever Enny Romero lobbed in his first pitch at 52 mph, but the ball drifted close to the plate. Alertly, Sanchez socked it to the warning track in deep center field for a sacrifice fly.
“Yeah, I know I was supposed to throw a base on balls on four pitches, intentional walk,” Romero said.
Romero said his hand was sweaty and the ball started to slip. But, he said, “I can’t stop because if I stop it’s a balk.”
From the dugout, Rays manager Kevin Cash seemed to say, “What happened?”
While some officials in Major League Baseball have proposed making intentional walks an automatic affair _ just wave the batter to first base without a pitch _ things like this are bound to keep people talking.
Up to a point, that is.
“As far as the eighth inning is concerned, I’m not really going to talk about it other than to say it’s embarrassing,” Cash said. “That’s embarrassing, but we’re not going to talk about it any farther than that.”
Sanchez connected for the second straight day, giving the 23-year-old catcher 13 home runs in 125 at-bats this season.
Tanaka won his sixth straight decision, giving up five hits and walking none. He left in the eighth after Bobby Wilson homered with one out and Logan Forsythe was hit by a pitch.
An All-Star last year, Archer leads the majors in the losses this season _ James Shields, who has lost 17 with the Padres and White Sox, pitched Saturday night.
Archer fanned six and tops the AL with 217 strikeouts. Nolan Ryan is the only AL pitcher to ever lead the league in losses and strikeouts, doing it in 1976 with the Angels.
Ellsbury picked on a familiar victim when he lined his eighth home run, a shot into the right-center field seats. Ellsbury is 19 for 34 (.559) with two homers against Archer, the most hits by anyone off the right-hander.
“Sometimes, it just happens,” Girardi said. “You wonder why one guy sees another guy so well.”
Said Archer: “A lot of that is in the past.”
“I’m sure if we looked at the numbers from this year, and if we looked at the quality of contact and not just a traditional batting average, give us a much better depiction of how he’s been against me recently. You know he’s a veteran hitter, I left a cookie out there for him and he capitalized,” he said.
Rays: Brad Miller was at 1B, a day after he was the DH while recuperating from being hit by a pitch in the right elbow. … RHP Chase Whitley is likely to make his Rays debut Sunday, pitching in relief. He started for the Yankees last year, had Tommy John surgery in May and was acquired Tampa Bay in November.
Rays: RHP Matt Andriese (6-7, 4.58) is 0-7 with a 6.11 ERA in his last 15 games, eight of them starts. The last Tampa Bay pitcher to lose eight straight decisions was Dan Wheeler in 2007-08.
Yankees: RHP Luis Cessa (4-0, 4.07) makes his fifth start in the majors. The Yankees have won all four games he’s started.
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