The Yankees Are in First Place. Or Second Place. Either Way, They Beat the Rays.
At first glance, it made you want to turn the scoreboard page upside down. If you were checking on an app, you felt like hitting refresh over and over.
But nothing changed. It was there in black and white, and somehow it was right: The Yankees were in first place on Thursday morning — but they were a game behind the Boston Red Sox.
The teams were virtually tied after Tuesday’s games, so when the Yankees lost and the Red Sox won on Wednesday, the Yankees had to fall a game back, even if they had the better winning percentage. Right?
But how could they be in first place in the American League East and also be a game back of the team that they were listed above? If there is one thing in sports that is supposed to be indisputable, it is the standings. It is math, after all.
But in this case, the standings seemed to take the reader into some mathematical netherworld. The Yankees were 43-20 at the time with a .683 winning percentage. The Red Sox, at 47-22, had a .681 winning percentage. Boston was in second place, but a game ahead of the Yankees.
Major League Baseball listed the Yankees in first place because the rule is that winning percentage determines the order of the standings, even if some published outlets had it the other way around, with Boston in first place.
“I am not responsible for those standings,” said Steve Hirdt, the executive vice president of the Elias Sports Bureau, Major League Baseball’s official statistician. “Elias is only responsible for M.L.B.’s official standings.”
The confusion was a result of two things: the unusual disparity between Boston and the Yankees in the number of games they had played, and the fact that both teams are playing so well, battling neck and neck for supremacy in their division.
On Thursday, Boston played late in Seattle against the Mariners. But the Yankees beat the Tampa Bay Rays, 4-3, and remained in first place with a 44-20 record and .688 winning percentage. So, temporarily, they were seven percentage points better than the Red Sox — and in first place — but a half-game behind Boston.
Yankees Manager Aaron Boone said that before the game someone had asked him to explain the standings to him, but he was baffled as well. Even after the Yankees’ win, and their “deficit” in the division was reduced to a half-game, Boone said he did not know if his team was in first or second place.
“I don’t,” he said with a laugh. “We’re just trying to rack up wins.”
And they have, at an impressive pace. Gleyber Torres had the key hit for the Yankees, a three-run home run in the fifth inning off Rays starter Blake Snell to give the Yankees a 4-2 lead. It was the second home run in two games for Torres, who now has 13 homers in his first 45 big-league games. In 37 games in Class AAA, Torres hit only three home runs.
“It’s weird,” he acknowledged. “I think when you mature every day, every at-bat, you believe in what you can do.”
Aaron Hicks hit a solo homer earlier in the inning after the Rays had established an early 2-0 lead. Matt Duffy, the Rays’ third baseman, hit the first pitch of the game, a fastball from Domingo German, over the left field wall, then Wilson Ramos singled in a run in the third.
Tampa Bay drew to within a run, 4-3, in the sixth, but Dellin Betances pitched a scoreless eighth and Aroldis Chapman had a 1-2-3 ninth for his 19th save, preserving the Yankees’ lead, of sorts, over Boston.
The players left the stadium hoping a late loss by Boston would give the Yankees a substantial lead in winning percentage, even if it meant they would only be tied in terms of games behind.