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The spark: Walk-off grand slam ignites Yankees win over division rival Rays

📸 Photo Credit: Bill Menzel/ Latino Sports

NEW YORK — Walk-off grand slam.

That’s it. That’s the headline. 

Since the All-Star break, the New York Yankees have struggled mightly — and, I mean mightly. So for one day, in the bottom of the 10th inning, with the bases loaded and trailing the Tampa Bay Rays 7-4, Josh Donaldson hammers a 97-mph four-seam fastball into the right field stands for a walk-off grand slam giving the Yankees an 8-7 win at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday night. 

“I think that inning (10th inning) is who we are as a team,” Donaldson said after letting the raw emotions of an explosive feat simmer down. “For myself, try to stay composed, trust in my process of what I’m doing, and I was able to execute.”

That may be the biggest and much-needed hit for the Yankees in the 2022 season, potentially igniting the flame the Yankees desperately need as they once again lead the American League East with a 10-game lead over the second-place Rays. 

“The guys were pumped,” Donaldson continued. “And I think just kind of, as we talked about how the game progressed, and kind of how the back-and-forth battle happens there, and we’re able to kind of come back there with our backs against the wall, I definitely think there was supply of release of some joy and some frustration over the past couple weeks, for sure.”

Half an inning prior, Aroldis Chapman entered a 4-4 ballgame with the hopes of shutting down the end of the Rays lineup. However, the struggling flame thrower pitched in the high 90s but struggled to control his fastballs down the middle as he surrendered two walks to load the bases with the ghost runner in effect. That was when Rays catcher Francisco Mejía scorched an 0-2 101-mph four-seamer past first baseman Rizzo, trickling to the right field corner, scoring all three baserunners for a 7-4 lead. 

📸 Photo Credit: Bill Menzel/ Latino Sports

Down by three runs, the Yankees placed their faith in the heart of their lineup. With ghost runner Aaron Judge on second base, Gleyber Torres knocked in a single, and Rays Jalen Beeks walked Anthony Rizzo on four-straight pitches to load the bases, welcoming Donaldson to the plate with no outs with the chance to be the Yankees’ long-awaited savior.

“My uncle Bill, he had a heart attack two days ago. I know he’s watching the game,” Donaldson said moments after hitting the grand slam in an on-field interview with YES Network clubhouse reporter Meredith Marakovits. “I love you, I’m praying for you.”

The first spark of the night for the Yankees started with Torres, who gave the Bombers the long-awaited momentum needed to forge a path towards their 73rd win of the season. After Judge rocked a double in the sixth inning, Torres sent an 80-mph curveball 353 feet into the left field stands, releasing a roar from the Yankees faithful that had yet to be heard in the first two games of the homestand. 

Once they rallied the momentum and notched in two runs, the second half of the game was consistent for the Yankees as they scored in three straight innings. Then, in the seventh inning, Aaron Judge tacked on a run when Pete Fairbanks walked the MLB home run leader with the bases loaded in the bottom, narrowing the Rays’ lead to one run. But that lead soon diminished the following inning when Anthony Rizzo launched a sinker down in the zone over the right field wall to tie the game at four. 

📸 Photo Credit: Bill Menzel/ Latino Sports

“Credit to the guys. It’s like, ‘Hey, let’s keep fighting,'” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said after the game with a relieved yet confident demeanor following the walk-off win. “Gleyber leads things off with a really good at-bat. Obviously, Rizz works the walk and then sets the stage for the hero.”

The Yankees made several roster moves before their rubber matchup, calling to the big leagues No. 14 prospect infielder Oswaldo Cabrera and No. 15 prospect outfielder Estevan Florial. The move sent Miguel Andújar and Tim Locastro to Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre. 

Florial had two at-bats in his major league debut, going 0-for-2 with a strikeout before being pinched-hit for by DJ LeMahieu in the bottom of the seventh. Despite going hitless in his debut, the 24-year-old Barahona, Dominican Republic native, made a stellar basket catch in the outfield, robing Ramírez of his second hit of the night. 

📸 Image Credit: Daniel Budasoff/Latino Sports

“Great play, coming in in a big spot to keep the game in check,” Boone said on the young center fielder in his first big league game. “I thought he got a great read on Ramírez’s ball, that hit back through the middle where he got a good read, and that was a big play in this game. You know, put those little things that give you a chance to win in the end.”

Cabrera was just as eager on the field and made tremendous defensive plays, shining in his first Major League game.

Domingo Gérman pitched in his sixth start of the 2022 season, going 4.2 innings and allowing five hits, three earned runs with one walk, and six strikeouts. The Yankees compete against three of their division rivals in three-straight series: the Boston Red Sox (1-2), Tampa Bay Rays (2-1), and a four-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays starting Thursday, August 18 at Yankee Stadium. 

📸 Image Credit: Daniel Budasoff/Latino Sports

The Rays came to The Bronx with a sole mission: to take care of the Yankees in a three-game series and pack their bags with a broomstick in their carry-on, before traveling back home to take on the Kansas City Royals in a four-game series. Despite dropping the last game against the Yankees, the Rays channeled both ends of the lineup to tack on runs.  

Besides Mejías’ clutch hit in extras, Yandy Díaz — who has struggled throughout different phases of the season — found a groove against the Yankees and left-handed pitching. Díaz went 2-for-6 with two doubles and three RBI in Wednesday’s matchup. The third baseman has a .316 average (30-for-95) against lefties this season with three homers. His success against Domingo Gérman helped give the Rays a 3-0 edge early in the game. 


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