ST. PETERSBURG -- One of the hottest hitters in the Majors waited on deck Thursday night as Alex Colome induced a game-ending lineout to center field from Jacoby Ellsbury, preserving a 2-0 Rays win over the Yankees.
Tampa Bay's closer was one batter away from watching catcher Gary Sanchez step to the plate representing the lead run. A combined shutout was in jeopardy, but the typically steady Colome kept the American League Rookie of the Year candidate right where he stood.
"I don't worry about that," Colome said. "Sanchez comes in to hit, I throw like [against] the other hitters. Fastball for a strike. He has to hit it. I'm not afraid of him."
Facing a team pushing hard for a spot in the American League Wild Card Game, the Rays pitched a fearless contest. Blake Snell started it off with five solid innings, then Chase Whitley worked 2 2/3 frames, striking out three. Colome came in and worked around a single and a wild pitch to secure a four-out save, his 35th of the season, to cap a three-game series.
It was Snell's first scoreless outing since July 19, and it marked only the second time in his last six starts that he had gone five innings. Whitley extended his streak of scoreless innings to open his season to 6 2/3.
"A really good start by Blake," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "He kind of rebounded from his last couple. … Chase Whitley comes in, he continues to impress. Then Alex Colome gets a big out in the eighth, comes in and cleans it up in the ninth."
Cash was methodical in dishing out praise for each of the pitching pieces that completed the puzzle to his club's eighth shutout of the season, and its first against the Yankees in more than two years. The Rays also ensured they wouldn't be swept for the first time in the second half of the season.
The first two batters of the game reached on hits off Snell, who fought back to strike out the next two batters before escaping unscathed. In the third inning, Snell struck out the first two batters but proceeded to load the bases, then got Chase Headley to fly out to right field to end the threat.
The Yankees would have five more baserunners on the night, but no more than one in any inning. After giving up 16 combined runs over the first two games of the series, Tampa Bay hit its stride on the mound.
"It definitely feels good, but at the same time, I've got to keep doing better," Snell said. "I've got to keep seeing what I'm doing, keep pushing for quicker at-bats, go deeper into the count. I'm definitely happy about it."
Sam Blum is a reporter for MLB.com based in St. Petersburg. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.