NEW YORK – Ryan Yarbrough became a big leaguer at a time when the highest esteem was reserved for pitchers who started games and those that finished them.
The Tampa Bay Rays left-hander has helped transform baseball in a role that does neither, and so he knows how rare a chance he got Thursday when manager Kevin Cash gave him back the ball with the chance to start and finish the ninth inning.
“My whole mission was just to get all three,” Yarbrough said.
Yarbrough ended a 24-start winless skid with Tampa Bay's first complete game in more than five years, Austin Meadows homered off shaky Yankees ace Gerrit Cole and drove in five runs, and the Rays beat New York 9-2 Thursday.
Yarbrough (3-3), best known as Tampa Bay's go-to bulk man in the early days of the opener, hadn't won a start since Aug. 11, 2019. He threw a career-high 8 2/3 innings that day, but with the Rays' clinging to a 1-0 lead over Seattle, Cash yanked him after just 100 pitches.
Staked to a big lead this time, Yarbrough was allowed to finish out with a career-most 113 pitches.
“It kind of comes full circle, I guess,” Yarbrough said.
Tampa Bay had gone a major league record streak of 731 games without a complete game since Matt Andriese’s two-hit shutout of Oakland on May 14, 2016. Toronto now has gone the longest at 231 games.
“Our team put us in a really good chance for me to do that,” Yarbrough said. “With how we do things, with a close lead, that's not going to be able to happen.”
The AL East-leading Rays salvaged a four-game split, improving to 10-3 at Yankee Stadium since the start of last season. New York fell 4 1/2 games back of Tampa Bay and has dropped seven of 10 entering their first series this year against the rival Red Sox.
Yarbrough escaped a key jam in the fourth and allowed solo homers to Brett Gardner and Miguel Andújar, but otherwise cruised.
The 29-year-old gave up two runs and six hits, walked none and struck out six.
“I’m sure he was probably sucking a little wind there in the eighth and ninth innings,” Cash said. “But I hope it’s something he wanted because we really appreciated him being able to complete it.”
Yarbrough took advantage of a favorable zone from plate umpire Chad Whitson, stealing several strikes off the outside corner. Yankees manager Aaron Boone was ejected after berating Whitson during a pitching change in the seventh.
“I wanted to just get my point across,” Boone said. “I thought there were some close pitches, but the Rays outplayed us today.”
Asked about his effectiveness in that area, Yarbrough said “you worry about what you can control.”
Meadows homered three times in the series, including a go-ahead, two-run drive off Cole in the fourth inning. He added a three-run double off Nick Nelson in the seventh.
Cole (6-3) matched a season worst by allowing five runs in five innings. He entered with an AL-best 1.78 ERA and dominated Tampa Bay in their previous meeting, striking out 12 in eight scoreless innings May 12.
He wasn't nearly as sharp Thursday. Meadows put the Rays up 2-1 in the fourth, and Tampa Bay made it 5-1 an inning later on Brandon Lowe's RBI single and Yandy Díaz's two-run hit.
Cole was replaced in the sixth after 92 pitches. He struck out seven, walked two and allowed five hits. He said he struggled to command his fastball, and that compounded issues created by what he perceived to be an inconsistent strike zone.
“Just underneath the ball a little bit today,” he said.
Meadows has five homers in seven games and 14 for the season. He leads the team with 44 RBIs.
Yarbrough allowed no-out hits to Aaron Judge and Gio Urshela in the fourth but stranded both to preserve a 2-1 lead. Rougned Odor popped out to foul territory, then Yarbrough struck out Clint Frazier and Andújar with the runners at second and third.
Gardner’s homer was his first of the season. Andújar’s shot was his third this year, all in this four-game series.
Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton was held out of the lineup for the second time in three days. He's 1 for 16 with nine strikeouts in five games since returning from a left quadriceps strain.
The star-studded Yankees' lineup has been held to five runs or fewer in 11 straight games, and even stoic leadoff hitter DJ LeMahieu has shown frustration this week. He jawed at Whitson after a looking strikeout in the eighth, then began slamming equipment around the dugout for the second time in three games.
The two-time batting champion was 1 for 4 and is hitting .255.
Rays: 1B Ji-Man Choi was held out of the lineup with a groin injury. Choi is 8 for 12 with three homers career against Cole.
Yankees: The results of a second opinion for RHP Corey Kluber's strained right shoulder were slightly more optimistic than the initial diagnosis. The two-time AL Cy Young Award winner is expected to resume throwing on flat ground in the next few days, although he's still unlikely to return until at least late July. ... LHP Zack Britton (elbow) felt good a day after making a rehab appearance with Double-A Somerset. He's slated to throw again Saturday.
Rays: Return to Texas for the first time since playing there in last year's neutral site World Series. The Rangers will start RHP Kyle Gibson (3-0, 2.24) in the opener Friday night. Tampa Bay hadn't announced a starter.
Yankees: RHP Michael King (0-2, 2.86) will pitch Friday night in the opener of a three-game home series against Boston. RHP Nathan Eovaldi (6-2, 4.01) is lined up to pitch for the Red Sox.
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