NEW YORK â On an unusual day for the âhostsâ and âvisitorsâ alike, the New York Yankees took advantage of unusual contributions by Jacoby Ellsbury and David Robertson to improve their standing in the American League playoff races.
Ellsbury reached base on catcherâs interference for a Major League-record 30th time, helping extend a 5-run fourth inning for the Yankees, and Robertson earned the win by allowing just one hit over a career-high 2.2 innings.
It added up to a 5-1 New York victory over the Tampa Bay Rays in the opener of a three-game series relocated from Tropicana Field to Citi Field because of Hurricane Irmaâs impact on Floridaâs Gulf Coast.
The result pleased the decidedly pro-Yankees crowd of 15,327 fans that took advantage of $25 tickets in the lower bowl of the stadium usually occupied by the New York Mets.
âIt was different,â said Yankees third baseman Todd Frazier, whose 3-run homer capped the 5-run rally. âRight before the game started, âLetâs Go Yankees!â [was] chanted.â
Reminders of the unusual arrangement â some amusing and some poignantly underscoring the intersection between baseball and real life â were present.
The Rays resided in the Metsâ clubhouse, which was scrubbed of the items belonging to Mets players and furnished with Tampa Bay name plates. Lucas Duda, who spent the first seven-plus years of his career with the Mets and scored his new teamâs only run Monday, was placed in his old locker spot at the back of the room. Taylor Swiftâs âWelcome to New Yorkâ played as Tampa Bay began batting practice.
Moments before the first pitch, Mets public address announcer Alex Anthony noted the recent devastation created by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Late last month, Tropicana Field hosted a Houston Astros-Texas Rangers series relocated due to Harveyâs impact on Houston.
The Tampa Bay area did not receive the direct hit that was feared from Irma, and Tropicana Field could re-open in time for the Rays to host the Boston Red Sox as scheduled on Friday.
âThe lives and the impact that that stormâs having is basically on everybodyâs mind,â Frazier said. âWeâre just praying for them and hopefully everybody comes out safe and sound.â
Anthony then asked for a moment of silence in honor of the victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The American flag in center field flew at half-staff as sets of fans in the left and right field bleachers unfurled flags of their own. In the sky behind Citi Field, a plane began its descent to LaGuardia Airport.
âI know this is a very special day to New Yorkers and everybody in the country,â Rays manager Kevin Cash said before the game. âItâs an honor to be here on a tough day in our country, but [one] turned into a day of remembering.â
The crowd quickly settled into what appeared to be a taut pitcherâs duel between the Yankeesâ CC Sabathia and the Raysâ Jake Odorizzi.
The Rays took a 1-0 lead on Adeiny Hechavarriaâs RBI triple in the second.
Aaron Judge walked leading off the fourth for the Yankees, went to third on Gary Sanchezâs single â New Yorkâs first hit â and scored on Didi Gregoriusâ sacrifice fly.
Sanchez raced home when Matt Hollidayâs 2-out grounder skipped under the glove of Trevor Plouffe for a 2-base error. Ellsbury then reached on catcherâs interference, breaking a tie atop the all-time list with Pete Rose, before Frazier hit a 3-run homer off the facing of the second deck in left.
âI told Ellsbury weâre going to take a picture and send it to Pete and say, âThis record is his, you canât have this one,ââ Frazier said with a grin.
Only the first run of the inning was earned against Odorizzi (8-8), who allowed three hits and three walks while striking out five over 3 2/3 innings.
Sabathia allowed one run on six hits and two walks while fanning six over 4.1 innings. He was pulled with two on, and Robertson (8-2), who has 132 career saves and was appearing in the fifth inning for the first time since 2011, struck out Evan Longoria and Duda to escape the jam.
âIâll do whatever it takes to get us back to the playoffs and get us a chance to get another ring,â said Robertson, who was a rookie on the Yankeesâ most recent championship team in 2009.
The Yankees (78-65) have won three straight and lead the Minnesota Twins by four games in the race for the first American League wild card. New York trails the first-place Boston Red Sox by three games in the AL East.
Hechavarria went 3-for-4 and missed the cycle by a homer. He flied out to the warning track in right in the eighth.
The Rays (71-74) have lost 4-of-5 to fall four games behind the Twins in the chase for the second wild card.
âWe lost the game in one inning,â Cash said.
Notes: The Yankees scratched 1B Greg Bird (lower back stiffness) about an hour before first pitch. âŚ The Yankees activated OF Clint Frazier from the 10-day disabled list. He missed more than a month due to a strained left oblique. âŚ Rays OF Steven Souza (bruised left knee) missed his third straight game. âŚ Rays RHP Nathan Eovaldi (Tommy John surgery) tossed a perfect inning for Double-A Montgomery on Sunday in his first game action since last August.