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Rays’ Ji-Man Choi won’t reveal secret behind success against Gerrit Cole

Notes | The first baseman has been the Yankees starter’s primary nemesis in recent seasons.
The Rays' Ji-Man Choi, pictured hitting a double during a game against the Marlins Tuesday at Tropicana Field, is batting .435 with four home runs, 10 RBIs, a 1.087 slugging percentage and 1.639 OPS against Gerrit Cole, who will start Saturday for the Yankees.
The Rays' Ji-Man Choi, pictured hitting a double during a game against the Marlins Tuesday at Tropicana Field, is batting .435 with four home runs, 10 RBIs, a 1.087 slugging percentage and 1.639 OPS against Gerrit Cole, who will start Saturday for the Yankees. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published May 28|Updated May 28

ST. PETERSBURG — Recent seasons of the Rays-Yankees series have been filled with melodramas. Saturday afternoon’s game at Tropicana Field will be no different.

Stay tuned for … Who’s Your Daddy?

It’s Yankees ace Gerrit Cole against his primary nemesis, Rays first baseman Ji-Man Choi, who has been referred to as “Gerrit Cole’s daddy” on social-media chatter.

“If I said I didn’t know (about that), I’d be lying,” Choi said, smiling, through interpreter Daniel Park.

Cole is scorching hot — 4-1 with a 2.45 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 40-1/3 innings over his last six starts. But including postseason games, Choi is batting .435 (10-for-23) with four home runs, 10 RBIs, a 1.087 slugging percentage and a 1.639 OPS against him.

What’s the deal?

“That’s a secret,” Choi said slyly. “That’s only for me to know.”

Rays manager Kevin Cash said he has no explanation for Choi’s dominance over Cole.

“You see some of these odd matchups with success or lack of success, and for our sake you hope it continues,” Cash said. “We know how talented Gerrit Cole is, the adjustments he can make on a day-to-day basis. You look from the side and watch Gerrit Cole throw, and many times I’m amazed anyone is hitting him.”

Sellout crowd on tap

Friday night’s game drew 19,018 fans. Saturday’s game is sold out, and Sunday’s is headed that way. That’s good news for the Rays.

“It’s a beautiful thing, seeing those seats packed,” Rays centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier said. “We always say the better we play, the more people are going to show up. We know what we’re up against. I drive from Tampa every day. A lot of times, I say if I wasn’t a player, I don’t know if I’d show up to games all the time. You’ve got 81 to pick from all year.

“We as players have to get ready and motivated for the game, whether there’s 5,000 or 25,000. I’d be lying if I said we didn’t love it when the stands are full. When we play the Red Sox or Yankees in a weekend series, there are going to be more fans. When the Oakland A’s or Texas Rangers come here on a weekday, you know what you’re going to get. I’ve been here long enough to know how things operate. You’ve got to put the best possible product out there and give them a reason to show up.”

Special guest

Just three days after undergoing surgery to remove her thyroid, Chloe Grimes attended Friday’s game with her family. In April, Grimes’ battle with cancer received national attention when she met her favorite player, Brett Phillips, before a game. As Grimes was being interviewed by Bally Sports Sun reporter Tricia Whitaker, Phillips hit a home run. In the postgame interview with Whitaker, Phillips shed tears and said he dedicated the homer to Grimes.

Miscellany

Manuel Margot’s sixth-inning double moved his hitting streak to 14 games, the longest active streak in the American League. The club record is 19 by Jason Bartlett in 2009. Margot is batting .468 (22-for-47) during the streak. … Friday night’s giveaway promotion was a replica of Wander Franco’s No. 5 platinum chain necklace. Several Rays players and staff wore the necklace during pregame warmups. Cash said he grabbed a handful to distribute to the Northeast Little League city championship team, which includes his son, J.D. Franco’s real chain is made of silver and filled with diamonds. Franco said he purchased it in 2021, about two weeks before he was called up to the big leagues. … Rays right-hander Corey Kluber (1-2, 4.41) starts Saturday against the Yankees, the team for which he made 16 starts in 2021. That included a no-hitter on May 19, 2021 against the Rangers. Kluber is 5-2 with a 2.51 ERA in eight starts against the Yankees. … Yankees third baseman Josh Donaldson was transferred from the COVID-19 injured list to the 10-day IL with right shoulder inflammation. … Yankees designated hitter Matt Carpenter, signed as a free agent on Thursday to replace the injured Aaron Hicks, hit a solo homer in the fourth.

Staff writer Greg McKenna contributed to this report.

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