ST. PETERSBURG — Gary Sanchez’s historic rise continues.
The 23-year-old rookie catcher hit his third home run in as many games, this time a three-run go-ahead game winner that propelled the New York Yankees past the Tampa Bay Rays 5-3 in front of a crowd of 12,732 at Tropicana Field on Tuesday evening.
“Gary Sanchez is having a tremendous year — we all know that,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said following the Yankees win, which snapped a five-game losing streak.
“Of course it feels good to win — winning always feels good, especially after losing five in a row” Sanchez added. “Tomorrow is another day, (so) we have to come back and try to win tomorrow.”
The seventh-inning homer by Sanchez was his 17th in just 44 major-league games, tying for the most in that span when Wally Berger did it in 1930. His 17 homers are also the most by a Yankees rookie since Alfonso Soriano had 18 in 2001.
A good portion of Sanchez’s recent red-hot surge has come at the expense of the Rays, in which three of his last six homers have been against Tampa Bay.
“He’s meant a lot since he’s gotten here,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “He can change the game in a lot of different ways, so it’s kind of fitting that he got the big hit here. … Obviously, teams have a little better book on him, and he’s learned how to adjust to what teams are trying to do to him. He’s run into some pretty good pitching and has hit some pretty good pitching, too, so it says a lot about him.”
The Rays held a 2-1 lead following six solid innings from LHP Drew Smyly, who was pulled after 87 pitches and allowing just four hits and a solo homer to Mark Teixeira. Brad Boxberger relieved him and gave up a four-run seventh that including an RBI single by Brett Gardner and then the first-pitch homer to Sanchez.
“We had an opportunity to face Sanchez or (Billy) Butler — the matchup was better with Butler, but (pitching coach Jim Hickey) left it up to me (after the mound visit),” Boxberger said. “I wanted Sanchez. … If they wanted me to walk him 100 percent, they would’ve told me. They left it up to me and it didn’t work out.”
“If Boxy had gotten behind Sanchez, then maybe we think about (walking Sanchez with first base open), but this is a guy who has gotten some big outs for us,” Cash added. “We trust him to get outs.”
The Rays were able to grab a 2-0 lead on Yankees RHP Michael Pineda, who got through 5.1 innings. Brad Miller hit a two-run triple in the fourth, scoring Logan Forsythe and Evan Longoria.
While giving up five hits and a walk, Pineda did strike out 11 batters, giving him 195 on the season and tying him for the most by a New York right-hander since A.J. Burnett (2009).
“When you’re a two-pitch pitcher against right-handers, you have to mix,” Girardi said. “I thought (Pineda and Sanchez) had a good plan today. Michael has to execute it, but I thought they did a good job together.”
“We had always had a plan before the game and are talking, ‘What’s the plan?'” Pineda added. “Sometimes I miss my pitch, so the plan isn’t working, but when I make a good pitch and we are following the plan, then we are working together on the mound and everything is good.”
The Rays fell to 35-41 at home, clinching a losing record at Tropicana Field for the third-straight season. … The Rays had 16 strikeouts, one shy of the season high (Aug. 1 vs. KC). … The Rays fell to 7-10 in the season series vs. New York. … Teixeira’s homer was the 407th of his career, tying him with Duke Snider for 54th on the all-time homer list. … Drew Smyly has made 11 starts since his last loss.
Wednesday, 7:10 p.m.: RHP Alex Cobb (1-0, 3.06) vs. RHP Masahiro Tanaka (13-4, 2.97)
Follow Mike on Twitter.