So much for the Yankees being foolishly accused of relying too much on the home run.
In what came as close to being a perfect game, the Yankees swatted four homers, including a grand slam from Giancarlo Stanton in the ninth inning, on the way to a 9-3 victory over the Rays in Game 1 of the ALDS on Monday night at Petco Park.
Game 2 in the best-of-five affair is Tuesday night. The Yankees are turning to 21-year-old Deivi Garcia and the Rays will start Tyler Glasnow.
There was more than a shower of power to the Yankees’ third straight postseason victory.
Gerrit Cole provided six innings of good, but not dominant, pitching. Gio Urshela turned in two sensational defensive plays at third in the second inning. In addition to homering, Kyle Higashioka blocked numerous balls in the dirt. Aaron Hicks drove in two runs. Chad Green and Zack Britton each provided a scoreless inning of relief while working with one=run cushions.
As for the Yankees flexing their muscles, Clint Frazier and Aaron Judge joined Stanton and Higashioka in the home run circle.
“That was big, that was huge, to come out like we did just wearing their pitchers down the whole game,’’ said Stanton, whose grand slam turned a 5-3 lead in the ninth into a six-run bulge.
In his first postseason start, Frazier crushed a 1-0 pitch from Blake Snell clocked at 96 mph into the left-field seats in the third. Higashioka and Judge homered in the fifth off Snell, and Stanton’s blow came off John Curtiss.
“That was big-time, that was good. That was definitely what we needed today,’’ said Stanton of his grand slam, which was his third homer in three games this postseason. “But I am not looking at it that way. We have more to do [Tuesday] and the next day. I am enjoying this for a little bit, but at the same time we got work to do.’’
After giving up a solo homer to Randy Arozarena in the first and a two-run blast to personal nemesis Ji-Man Choi (8-for-12 with three homers vs. the Yankee ace) in the fourth, Cole earned his keep in the fifth when he loaded the bases after retiring the first two batters. He then struck out Manuel Margot with a 100 mph fastball to kill the scoring threat.
“It’s fun. Big pitch, big moment. Executed it perfectly,’’ said Cole, who worked a perfect sixth and struck out the final two hitters he faced with fastballs measured at 99 and 97 mph. “Glad because I really got myself in a bit of a mess there.’’
Hicks, who went 3-for-4 with three RBIs, upped the Yankees’ lead to 5-3 in the ninth with a run-scoring single in front of Tyler Wade walking to load the bases for Stanton who unloaded on a 2-2 pitch that traveled through the marine layer of the Southern California evening and over the center-field fence.
With the lead at 9-3 Aroldis Chapman sat down in the bullpen and Luis Cessa worked the ninth. That doesn’t seem like much, but if the ALDS goes to five games with no off days each manager would like to avoid using his A-list relievers as much as he can.
Much was made of the Rays winning eight of 10 games against the Yankees in the regular season. And there was a lot of talk about the teams admitting they don’t care for each other.
The ledger now reads, 1-0, Yankees and there wasn’t any signs of the ill will that is real.
What stands out entering Game 2, other than the Yankees taking a chance on the neophyte Garcia, is how important it is to the Rays.
“Find a way to get it done,’’ manager Kevin Cash said. “It’s a must-win scenario for us.’’