ST. PETERSBURG — The “MVP” chants began in the first inning Friday night. As Aaron Judge led off for the Yankees at Tropicana Field, it sounded like he was batting in the bottom, not top, of the first.
As Judge pointed out after the Yankees’ victory on Thursday, New York’s first series against its closest challengers in the American League East has a homecoming feel. After all, the Yankees play their spring training games across the bay in Tampa.
“That was fun,” Judge said at the time. “I like playing down here in Tampa.”
The MLB-best Yankees feel at home, and New York continues to roll as several key players remain on the injured list. Judge was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts Friday, but New York scratched out a 2-0 win to move 6-1/2 games ahead of the Rays atop the division.
Maybe not quite “very beatable,” as Rays infielder Taylor Walls said Thursday.
“Any team is beatable,” said Yankees starter Jameson Taillon, who cruised through eight scoreless innings with just 93 pitches, when asked about Walls’ comments, “but this one’s pretty tough to beat.”
Giancarlo Stanton (right calf strain), Aroldis Chapman (left Achilles tendonitis), Chad Green (right elbow strain) and Josh Donaldson (right shoulder inflammation) are on the injured list. DJ LeMahieu has been missing since Tuesday, though Yankees manager Aaron Boone said LeMahieu and centerfielder Aaron Hicks (right hamstring tightness) both were available off the bench.
“We’re missing a lot of pieces and we’re going out there and still showing that no matter what we roll out there, we’re still going to be competitive,” Taillon said.
Matt Carpenter wasn’t even a Yankee three days ago. Released from the Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate last week, the three-time All Star signed with the Yankees as a free agent Thursday and debuted that night as a designated hitter.
Carpenter got on base and scored twice Thursday. Then Friday, after Gleyber Torres hit a 438-foot opposite field home run to open the scoring, the former Cardinals standout hit his first big-league home run since April 13, 2021.
“I grinded really hard in the offseason with a lot of people to try to fix (my swing), two months in Triple-A playing,” Carpenter said, “so to be able to come out (Friday) and see that hard work paid off, it feels good.”
It was the only run support Taillon, born in nearby Lakeland, needed. The righty’s only previous outing at Tropicana Field was a loss last May. His brother still lives in Fort Myers, but he said he didn’t leave many tickets for Friday. Normally, a larger section of family and friends would have seen him take a no-hitter into the fifth.
Manuel Margot extended his hitting streak in the sixth with a leadoff double, but Taillon needed just 11 pitches to retire the next three Rays after they had their only runner of the night in scoring position. Kevin Kiermaier, who struck out to end the inning, threw his helmet to the ground in frustration.
Opponents are now hitting 2-for-24 with runners in scoring position in their last four games against New York’s staff.
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“I think they’ve been the best group to this point in the league,” Boone said of his starting rotation..
Things were even starting to go Joey Gallo’s way Friday. The outfielder entered the game 1-for-his-last-25, but he managed the first hit off Rays starter Jeffrey Springs with a line drive that drifted just over the glove of Wander Franco, who was shifted from shortstop to rightfield.
For not the first time or last time Friday, “Let’s go Yankees!” chants reverberated down the left-field line.
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