Yanks gain in WC as Sanchez swats 2 HRs

Yanks gain in WC as Sanchez swats 2 HRs

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Yankees have taken to crowding the top step of their dugout every time Gary Sanchez grabs a bat, well aware that they may witness something historic at any given moment. The slugging rookie did not disappoint on Wednesday.

Sanchez homered for a fourth consecutive game, clearing the fences twice and driving in a career-high five runs in leading the Yankees to an 11-5 victory over the Rays at Tropicana Field. Sanchez became the quickest player to reach 19 home runs, doing so in his 45th big league game.

"I never thought it was going to be like this," Sanchez said through an interpreter. "At the same time, you work very hard so you can have good numbers during the season."

Sanchez on his two-homer game

Sanchez hit a three-run home run off starter Alex Cobb, then added a solo shot off reliever Justin Marks in support of Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka, who picked up his 14th victory of the season despite surrendering a career-high four home runs.

"He didn't have a good slider and he didn't have a good split, so when you don't have your two main pitches, it's pretty hard to navigate through a lineup," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I give him credit for giving us six innings and buckling down and just finding a way to get through it."

New York moved within 2 1/2 games of the Orioles for the second American League Wild Card, also needing to jump past the Tigers, Astros and Mariners.

Bobby Wilson, Evan Longoria, Brad Miller and Corey Dickerson all crushed solo homers in the third, establishing a Rays club record for homers in an inning. The last three homers came back-to-back-to-back, but it wasn't enough to dig out from the shortest start of Cobb's career, as he lasted just 1 1/3 innings while permitting seven runs and nine hits.

Must C: Rays' four homers in 3rd

Miller added a second homer in the eighth inning off Adam Warren, marking his eighth career multihomer game. Donovan Solano hit his first Yankees home run as part of a three-run ninth.

"Tonight was a slugfest, and we were on the wrong side of it," Miller said.

Gary is scary: For the second time in as many games, the Rays elected to pitch to Sanchez with first base open, and the result was the same -- a three-run homer. Sanchez ripped his second-inning drive inside the left-field foul pole off Cobb, which had an exit velocity of 111.4 mph and traveled a projected 397 feet, according to Statcast™. He added a solo shot in the sixth off Marks, this one to left-center. Statcast™ had that one at 100 mph off the bat and a projected 402 feet. More >

"I don't really worry about the numbers," Sanchez said. "What you want to do is just win ballgames right now, because if we do that, we can make the playoffs. That's my focus right now."

Sanchez's three-run jack

Tough outing: Cobb entered Wednesday night's start on a high after picking up the win against the Blue Jays in his last outing, his first win since returning from Tommy John surgery. But a different Cobb showed up from the beginning. The Yankees scored three in the first and four in the second off the right-hander, who retired just four batters.

"I'm definitely going to go through some difficulties, and it's not going to stop after the next start," said Cobb, allowing that everything won't likely be clicking for him until next year's Spring Training. "Eventually I'll be back to my old self. But that's not right now. It's never easy to walk off the mound in the second inning."

Just win, baby: Tanaka held the AL's best ERA when he took the mound on Wednesday, and though the Rays' four-homer inning inflated his mark to 3.07, he still completed the night in the lead. Tanaka is trying to become the first Yankee to win an AL ERA title since Rudy May in 1980. More importantly, the club improved to 23-8 in Tanaka's starts.

"It was obviously a grind," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "I felt like I was able to sort of get that off the innings after [the four homers], so that part I think was a positive."

Tanaka whiffs Shaffer

"[Logan Morrison] and I were talking on the bench. And we were trying to figure out if we've ever seen anybody come up and do something like this. … We've seen him quite a bit here the last couple of weeks, and what a talented player. Offensively, defensively. We saw in New York as strong an arm as I've ever seen from a catcher. And then, offensively, just has a very, very good approach at the plate and a ton of power." -- Rays manager Kevin Cash, on Sanchez

Sanchez makes homer history

Yankees: Luis Cessa (4-2, 4.44 ERA) will make his seventh Major League start on Thursday as the Yankees conclude their three-game series at Tropicana Field at 7:10 p.m. ET. Cessa faced the Rays on Sept. 11 in New York, taking his first career loss as he served up three home runs in 5 2/3 innings.

Rays: Blake Snell (5-8, 3.87 ERA) will make the 18th start of his rookie campaign Thursday. He's struggled with his control lately, which is personified by the fact he has not pitched through the sixth inning in eight of his last nine starts and has not reached the fifth inning in three of his last five.

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Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.