NEW YORK (AP) Gerrit Cole put a career-worst pummeling behind him, and the major league-leading New York Yankees began a critical stretch against their top AL East foes by widening an impressive lead in the division.

''We're up for the challenge,'' the Yankees veteran ace said.

Cole escaped a bases-loaded jam in the sixth inning to preserve a shutout before handing off to the bullpen, and the Yankees capitalized on shaky defense by the Tampa Bay Rays for a 2-0 victory Tuesday night.

The AL East-leading Yankees won their fifth straight as they played the first of six games in nine days against third-place Tampa Bay. New York moved 10 games ahead of the two-time defending division champs and nine up on the Blue Jays, who lost to Baltimore. Toronto will host the Yankees for three games this weekend.

New York had just five hits but improved to 45-16, the best 61-game start across baseball since Seattle in 2001.

''We got a long way to go, and that's not the end goal,'' shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa said of the AL East. ''The end goal is to get the big one.''

The Yankees were without third baseman Josh Donaldson, who served a one-game suspension from Major League Baseball for comments to White Sox star Tim Anderson regarding Jackie Robinson. Donaldson's ban was upheld on appeal.

Cole (6-1) allowed a career-most five homers against Minnesota in his previous outing but bounced back with a mostly stress-free start. The right-hander struck out seven, walked one and allowed five hits, all singles.

''Just on the corners a lot, unpredictable a lot,'' Cole said. ''Throwing four pitches, well executed, well located.''

Ex-Yankee Corey Kluber (3-3) countered Cole with six innings, allowing two unearned runs, four hits and a walk with three strikeouts.

Clay Holmes pitched a scoreless ninth for his 10th save, completing the Yankees' six-hitter and their 10th shutout. It was Holmes' 27th straight scoreless appearance, the second-best stretch in franchise history behind Mariano Rivera's 28-game streak in 1999, per Baseball-Reference.

''Once we see him jog out, we know the game is over,'' Kiner-Falefa said.

The Rays made two errors in the fourth that allowed New York to take a 2-0 lead.

After Giancarlo Stanton's one-out walk, right fielder Manuel Margot dropped Gleyber Torres' routine popup near the foul line. Kiner-Falefa followed with a two-out single, and left fielder Randy Arozarena had a chance to throw out Stanton at the plate. Arozarena's high throw sailed so far over the catcher that Stanton scored easily and Torres was able to follow him home.

''You hate to see an outcome of a game turn that way,'' Rays manager Kevin Cash said. ''But at that point, that was a couple of big moments right there.'

Tampa Bay has allowed 40 unearned runs this season, second-most in the majors behind the Chicago White Sox.

Cole bemoaned throwing too many pitches down the middle during his shellacking by the Twins last week. He adjusted Tuesday by essentially abandoning his cutter, throwing it a season-low three times.

He largely cruised until loading the bases with one out in the sixth, but then he induced a 6-4-3 double play from the speedy Arozarena to preserve the shutout. Cole skipped off the mound, pointing at his middle infielders.

Torres made a great play at second base earlier in the inning to keep his foot on the bag receiving Cole's errant throw on a weak grounder. Kiner-Falefa also had a key play earlier in the inning, knocking down Ji-Man Choi's grounder up the middle to likely keep a run from scoring.

Yandy Diaz was initially ruled safe on the play Torres made, and even the Yankees were surprised when umpires changed the call via replay review.

''Bad call,'' Diaz said via interpreter. ''And I think it cost us the game.''

Kiner-Falefa made a gem in the seventh from shortstop after Kevin Kiermaier's grounder was tipped by reliever Wandy Peralta. Kiner-Falefa changed course, barehanded the ball between second and first base, and whipped it over in time for the out.


Rays: C Mike Zunino was sent for an MRI after his sore left shoulder didn't respond to treatment as hoped. ... SS Wander Franco (strained right quad) did agility work Tuesday and is progressing well. ... RHP David Hess, who had treatment in the offseason for a cancerous chest tumor, went two perfect innings including three strikeouts for the FCL Rays on Monday against the Twins.

Yankees: LHP Aroldis Chapman (Achilles tendinitis) threw a bullpen on the field, and he could face live hitters his next time on the mound. ... RHP Jonathan Loaisiga (right shoulder inflammation) has resumed throwing. ... RHP Domingo German (right shoulder impingement syndrome) will throw three innings to hitters Wednesday and then could begin a minor league rehab assignment.


Rays LHP Shane McClanahan (7-2, 1.87) and Yankees LHP Nestor Cortes (5-2, 1.96) face off in a showdown of surprising early season Cy Young Award contenders.


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