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DJ LeMahieu says Yankees were better team than AL champion Rays

“I think they just made a couple plays that we didn’t,” the re-signed infielder said. “And that was the bottom line.’'
Infielder DJ LeMahieu recently finalized a six-year, $90 million deal to return to the Yankees.
Infielder DJ LeMahieu recently finalized a six-year, $90 million deal to return to the Yankees. [ KATHY WILLENS | AP ]
Published Jan. 29

The Rays had their way with the Yankees last season, winning eight of 10 regular-season games before ousting them in a five-game American League Division Series on their way to the World Series.

But New York infielder DJ LeMahieu still insists the Yankees were the better squad.

“I think we ran into a really hot Tampa team,” LeMahieu said Thursday. “I thought we were better than they were. I think they just made a couple plays that we didn’t. And that was the bottom line.

“Moving forward, we’ve got to make those plays, whatever it is. I just thought last year they just had our number, and it was disappointing. I really think we’re going to get over the hump here. Hopefully, that just keeps building.”

LeMahieu did a Zoom media call after finalizing a six-year, $90 million deal to return to the Yankees, a team that hasn’t been to the World Series since 2009 and has won only three playoff series in the last eight years. In 2020, the Yankees finished 33-27, seven games behind the 40-20 Rays.

“It is just a group I wanted to be a part of,” said LeMahieu, 32. “This is an exciting group. … There’s no secret we need to get over that hump. There’s one goal with the Yankees, and that’s to win the World Series. My two years here, we haven’t been able to do it.”

Though still facing questions about their rotation after acquiring two starters — Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon — coming off injury, and having a few other holes, LeMahieu said he is confident the Yankees are ready to end their World Series drought.

“There’s no doubt,” he said. “We’ve got to get over that hump, and we’re ready. I’ve been saying it for two years. It’s time.

“It’s just another reason I wanted to be back. We’ve got some unfinished business.”

Kluber took a one-year, $11 million deal from the Yankees, spurning a close offer from the Rays.

He said he wanted to sign with a contending team and have a chance to contribute in a key role, opportunities he also would have gotten with the Rays.

Kluber said it helped to have a previous relationship with Yankees pitching coach Matt Blake (when both were with in Cleveland) and health and performance director Eric Cressey, who supervised Kluber’s rehab and previous offseason training at his private facilities in Massachusetts and Palm Beach Gardens.

“I think that familiarity for me definitely was a good thing,” Kluber said.