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Yankees slug their way to Game 1 win over Rays

Gerrit Cole reached back for his hardest fastball of the year, 100.1 mph of fire sizzling past Manuel Margot to pin the bases loaded in the fifth inning. The Yankees’ ace danced off the mound, unleashing a primal scream that could be heard six stories above the playing field at Petco Park.

These were the types of moments envisioned when Cole was touted as the sport’s most celebrated free-agent pitcher, and thus far, he has delivered. Supported by four homers, Cole struck out eight over six strong innings as the Yankees posted a 9-3 victory over the Rays in Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Monday evening.

New York’s bullpen polished off the final nine outs, a convincing victory that wrestled control of the Division Series after the Yankees dropped eight of 10 meetings with Tampa Bay during the regular season. In the history of best-of-five postseason series, Game 1 winners have gone on to take the series 98 of 136 times (72 percent).

Cole had to grind for periods of his 97-pitch effort, touched by Randy Arozarena’s solo homer in the first inning and a two-run shot by personal nemesis Ji-Man Choi in the fourth, the journeyman’s fourth homer in 19 career at-bats against Cole.

But Cole protected a one-run lead in the fifth, pitching around two walks and a single to gas Margot in a key spot, then fanned another two in a clean sixth. Cole has 21 strikeouts across two postseason starts, second in franchise history only to Roger Clemens’ 24 punchouts across two starts in the 2000 playoffs.

The Yankees collected four runs and six hits over five innings against left-hander Blake Snell, grabbing a lead three batters into the game. DJ LeMahieu singled in a nine pitch at-bat to lead off the game, advanced on a wild pitch and groundout, then scored on Aaron Hicks’ sacrifice fly.

Clint Frazier homered in the third inning, highlighting his first start of the postseason. Kyle Higashioka and Aaron Judge slugged homers in the fifth off Snell, establishing the Yanks’ place as the first team in Major League history to hit three or more home runs in each of their first three postseason games.

The Yankees broke the game open with a five-run ninth inning, capped by Giancarlo Stanton’s grand slam, and saving closer Aroldis Chapman, who had been warming up in the bullpen.

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