Yanks close gap in opener of home(r)stand

The long ball served the Yankees well Friday night as they opened a 10-game homestand with a 5-2 victory over Tampa Bay and narrowed the gap between them and the first-place Blue Jays to a half-game (even in the loss column).

The Yanks had only three hits off Rays starter Jake Odorizzi (6-8) in 6 2/3 innings, but they were all home runs. Brian McCann, who has torched Odorizzi over the years, walked twice and scored on homers by Alex Rodriguez in the second inning and Greg Bird in the seventh. McCann also went deep in the fourth, which raised his career batting average against Odorizzi to .647 with three home runs in 17 at-bats.

Four home runs by the Orioles also helped the Yankees because they came in a 10-2 victory at Toronto.

Considering the way the Yankees ended their previous homestand with losses in five of the last seven games, Friday night was a very pleasant sight to see for the 32,530 in attendance at Yankee Stadium. The offense was not as combustible as it had been on the 5-1 trip to Atlanta and Boston (57 runs in six games), but the Yankees made the most of their few hits. Their only other knock was a scratch single by Brett Gardner in the eighth inning off reliever Enny Romero.

Luis Severino had another solid outing for the Yankees in winning his third straight start. The righthander pitched into the seventh inning and literally scattered seven hits as the Rays stranded eight base runners in his time on the mound (and nine for the game). Tampa Bay was 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position. Meanwhile, the Yankees did not have a single at-bat with runners in scoring position, which is why all those home runs were vital.

The only blip on Severino’s screen was the home run he allowed to Evan Longoria leading off the sixth inning.

“He has really been consistent,” manager Joe Girardi said. “What impressed me was that after the homer he bounced back and got three quick outs.”

Well, not really. Severino got two quick outs before a walk and a hit allowed created another threat, but he closed the inning out with a flourish by striking out Kevin Kiermaier.

Severino lowered his season ERA to 2.04. It is even lower over his past three starts, all victories, at 0.98 with 16 strikeouts in 18 1/3 innings.

Andrew Miller came on in the ninth after Adam Warren gave up a run on a single by Kiermaier and a double by J.P. Arenicibia and earned his 30th save.

Not to diminish the loss of All-Star first baseman Mark Teixeira, the Yankees’ home run leader (31), but Bird has done an able job filling in, a tall order for a rookie. He is batting .258 with four home runs and 13 RBI in 66 at-bats. The Yankees are actually 10-5 in the games Tex has missed. That is not all Bird’s doing, but he has played a large part.

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