ST. PETERSBURG — After blowing two late leads in Boston during last week's debilitating series, Yankees fans were sweating bullets on Tuesday night, fearing a case of déjà vu.
The Tampa Bay Rays hung around until the end, threatening to take the lead in both the eighth and ninth innings. But this time, New York's bullpen prevailed.
Flushing the residual effects of those demoralizing defeats at Fenway Park, the Yankees held on in their series opener at Tropicana Field, winning 4-3.
DJ LeMahieu and Gio Urshela put the Yankees in front with run-scoring knocks in the middle innings. It was a solo home run from Ryan LaMarre in the top of the eighth, however, that proved to be the difference.
"Every game is important," LaMarre said after the win. "So we're just trying to go out and really put yesterday behind us and just keep pressing on, keep fighting and it was an awesome win for the team."
Although he didn't factor into the decision, Jordan Montgomery continued to pitch well in the month of July. The southpaw shoved five scoreless frames with five hits and five strikeouts. If it wasn't for his pitch count—eclipsing the 100-pitch mark in the fifth—who knows how many more innings he would've been able to throw.
Tampa wouldn't go down without a fight, though. A two-run blast off the bat of Brandon Lowe cut the deficit to one run in the sixth as the second baseman jumped on a hanging curveball from right-hander Chad Green.
Two innings later, the Rays pushed across another run on an RBI double from Randy Arozarena off Zack Britton.
At that point, LaMarre had already given the Bombers an extra cushion with his opposite-field shot in the top of the inning. His homer was an extra tally of insurance when it nestled into the bleachers 396 feet away from home plate. As it turns out, New York wouldn't have won without it.
In the ninth, Aroldis Chapman put the tying run on first, walking phenom Wander Franco with two men out. Nelson Cruz stepped up to the plate with one walk-off homer off Chapman already under his belt this season—the other coming in Minnesota last month before the slugger was traded to the Rays—but Chapman took care of business this time around.
The closer struck Cruz out swinging on a full-count slider, pounding his glove as he clinched a big win for the Bombers.
"We really needed it. Everyday is super important," Boone said, cracking a smile. "We won tonight, but we've got to go get it tomorrow and these guys are hyper aware of that and locked in on that.
With the victory, New York is now 52-47 on the season. They still have a lot of ground to make up in the division and in the Wild Card race, but these are the kinds of wins that can keep this club in contention down the stretch.
"They haven't lost confidence. They haven't lost faith. They've gotten themselves off the mat," Boone said. "They do do a really good job of turning the page every day. And that's what we'll continue to do."
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