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Rays 5, Yankees 4: d’Arnaud launches three homers in the game of the year

Travis d’Arnaud was the star tonight in a game that brought a rollercoaster of emotions

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at New York Yankees Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The eighth game against the Yankees in the past 29 days, the Rays occupied the visiting clubhouse in Yankee Stadium for game one of a pivotal four-game tilt between division rivals.

Blake Snell, with eight days of rest, took the mound for the Rays tonight. The Yankees sent out their left-handed ace James Paxton, who is pitching on seven days of rest.

Leading off this game for the Rays was Travis d’Arnaud, who exorcised the Rays’ demons against the Yankees last Saturday with a walk-off home run, helping lead the Rays to a series split against a team that has had Tampa Bay’s number all season long.

d’Arnaud loaded the count full before turning around a 95 mph fastball from Paxton into the right field bleachers of Yankee Stadium. With an exit velocity of 101.3 mph, d’Arnaud hit the ball with a 26 degree launch angle and sent it 386 feet to give the Rays a 1-0 lead in the top of the first.

Blake Snell worked out of an almost sticky situation, just missing the zone on a few borderline pitches in the first inning, after throwing 20 pitches. Snell got Aaron Judge to ground into a double play to end the first. Snell struck out two in the second and gave way to the Rays hitters in the top of the third.

Travis d’Arnaud stepped into the box with one out in the top of the third inning, and on a 1-0 count, replicated his home run from the first inning down to hitting it in the exact same section. Beating the first inning exit velocity by .4 mph, d’Arnaud hit this home run 101.7 mph and launched it 30 degrees, sending the ball 379 feet. Most importantly, the Rays lead increased to 2-0.

d’Arnaud’s home runs were basically mirror images of each other. With nearly identical exit velocities and distances and into the same section, this side-by-side video shows just how similar these solo shots were to put the Rays on the board twice.

Edwin Encarnacion hit a solo home run off of Snell in the bottom of the fourth, bringing the Yankees within one, making this a 2-1 game.

Blake Snell’s day was done after five innings of work. Snell threw 93 pitches, 56 for strikes, while striking out four and walking two. Snell allowed one run on three hits, with the one run coming from Encarnacion’s solo home run. Diego Castillo relieved Snell in the bottom of the sixth.

Castillo worked around a leadoff walk to Aaron Judge (on a very good pitch that could have been called a strike but was called ball four) by getting two groundouts before striking out Aaron Hicks to end the inning. Travis d’Arnaud drew a walk in the top of the seventh to get on base for the fourth time in this game, but was stranded there to end the inning.

Diego Castillo recorded the first two outs in the bottom of the seventh before being pulled for Emilio Pagan. Castillo was good in his 1.2 innings of work, striking out two, but was more than likely pulled due to pitch count, with Castillo having thrown 31 pitches.

Pagan allowed a solo home run to Gio Urshela which tied this game at 2-2. Two Yankees reached base but Aaron Judge stranded those runners after Pagan struck out Judge with a high fastball to end the inning.

The top of the eighth brought two swings by Yandy Diaz and Avisail Garcia that looked promising off of the bat, but with Diaz’ going 338 feet and Garcia’s going 378, neither went far enough to put another Rays run on the board, sending this tied game into the bottom of the eighth.

Andrew Kittredge entered this game to relieve Pagan. Kittredge struck out Urshela and Sanchez to record the first two outs in the inning, but allowed a single to Aaron Hicks before Edwin Encarnacion stepped into the box and destroyed a 95 mph fastball, sending it 404 feet into the left field bleachers to give the Yankees a 4-2 lead. Kittredge allowed a single after the home run but got a groundout to end the inning.

Aaron Boone brought in reliable closer Aroldis Chapman to try and close this one out for the Yankees. Kevin Kiermaier hit a leadoff single and Guillermo Heredia followed that up with a single of his own, putting two on with no outs for Willy Adames. Adames struck out, bringing Joey Wendle up to the plate. Wendle struck out, bringing Travis d’Arnaud up to the plate. What ensued during this at-bat made my heart race like few at-bats can.

d’Arnaud swung and missed at strike one, a 101 mph fastball from Chapman. d’Arnaud took ball one, a slider in the first. d’Arnaud watched strike two, a slider that snuck into the outside corner. d’Arnaud then fouled off two 101 fastballs before watching two sliders thrown into the dirt to bring the count full at 3-2.

The next pitch? An 85 mph slider turned around at 96 mph and into the first row of the right field bleachers, going 355 feet and giving the Rays a 5-4 lead. For the second time in 11 days, Aroldis Chapman blew a save against the Tampa Bay Rays, only this time, the Rays gave Chapman the loss. That sounds so unbelievably great to say. I think I finally love the short porch.

Andrew Kittredge stayed in the game to work the bottom of the ninth, recording two groundouts before making way to Oliver Drake to get the final out to close this game out. Drake did just that, striking out Luke Voit looking with a fastball to end this game.

This game was simply unbelievable, and Travis d’Arnaud’s performance tonight was one that will not be easily forgotten. A Rays player hitting three home runs against the Yankees, of all teams, in Yankee Stadium, of all places, with one of them to win the game, of all scenarios, against Aroldis Chapman, of all pitchers. d’Arnaud even made some history tonight.

This game may have just been a series opener, but it felt like a Postseason game and was as exciting as any regular season game could possibly be, as this game was without question the win of the year so far for the Rays. The second game of the series takes place tomorrow night with first pitch scheduled for 7 pm.